16 December 2014 @ 02:33 pm
The problem with homsechooling is that it puts me in company with a lot of people I'd otherwise avoid--i.e., conservative Christians of the scary kind. So when Georgia Homeschooler posts a link to Bill Nye talking about how Creationism Is 'Raising A Generation Of Young People Who Can't Think', I feel compelled to be that small voice in the wilderness wailing, "not all homeschoolers are scary conservative Christians!" So, to a spate of comments heartily disagreeing with Bill and claiming that there's more evidence for creation than evolution, I, um...argued. Yeah. Wish me luck, folks.
15 December 2014 @ 06:28 pm
Recent highlights:

Homeschool days at the zoo and Atlanta Museum of Design, where we learned to program in Scratch and make programmable robots with Legos.

Hannukah party where Z steadfastly refused to try latkes, even though I described them to him as "a pancake made of french fries." We played a game of Carcasonne, and he played hide and seek with two other kids there; at one point he hid so well no one could find him for a good 10 minutes, which now hold the record for longest minutes of my life.

Our own tree-trimming party, where Z decorated cookies with two friends, and helped set up the Christmas village and hang ornaments on the tree.

Playing Draw Something with me and his grandpa. He can guess most words on his own now.

We finished "A Tale of Two Cities," which confused Z greatly about the fate of Sidney Carton. "Does he disappear from jail and escape?" No, it's a far, far better thing...Leading to an understanding of the "tragic figure" card in the game Guillotine, where we accrue points by beheading nobles.

There's been a recent interest in South Africa, both because our friend Kristin moved there this year, and because of a Tom Smith song we've been playing in the car. So today we looked up a web site about South Africa, and learned about Nelson Mandela.

Today we also wrote a letter to Santa, and played a word game called Quiddler.
23 September 2014 @ 04:21 pm
Weekly updates have sort of gotten away with me, so I'll just hit the highlights.

Z's first lantern parade was a hit. The route was the entire East Side Trail, from Krog St up to Piedmont Park. Naturally, we couldn't expect Z to walk all two miles, so Aaron dropped us off at the parade lineup, then drove up the route to park the car where we planned to decamp. Z surprised us by walking lots farther than we thought--most of a mile, all the way up to North Avenue. He hugely enjoyed seeing all the lanterns, and insisted that we had to walk with the parade, not just stand aside and watch--but by the end of the night, he decided we'd just watch the next one, because, "oh, my feet!"

He remains enthusiastic about karate, and we've started learning to count in Korean. I can see this is going to be an expensive hobby--we're already in the hole for lessons, plus the uniform is $50...then there will be belt test fees, patches, belts as he levels up...but ye gods, he does love it, and the discipline is good for him. Having the class back-to-back with gymnastics has proven tricky, but there's only one more gymnastics class so that won't be an issue for much longer.

We found a homeschool program at the zoo: a monthly program where I can drop him off for two hours after lunch, then afterwards we can stay at the zoo til it closes. This is a steal at $20 per class, considering the regular zoo admission would be twice that for the two of us if we just wanted to go for the day.

Two more classes we found: on Tuesday mornings while I teach, Z is going with another family to a math class with the LEAD homeschool group. Then we meet up for pizza at lunchtime. He loves this, and since it's a mixed-age class, he's doing a range of math stuff, including multiplication. They send him home with activity sheets, so we always do one of those immediately after, while the interest is still fresh. I've also started him on fractions--just halves and quarters, since that dovetails with our lessons on money and telling time (and cooking, on those rare occasions I have the energy for it).

The other class is called Nature Detectives, at the Dunwoody Nature Center, about 20 minutes north of us. Four 90-minute classes, where the kids get to walk through the woods and learn about nature-y stuff. Last week it was tracking animals, so Z was quite excited to tell me all about scat. Yay. (They also made plaster casts of animal tracks, so it wasn't all scat.) Today it's identifying leaves.

Lessee...we watched the Wizard of Oz. I skipped past a few of the scary witch parts, but the flying monkeys and the giant flaming wizard head didn't faze him. We talked about some of the differences between the book and the movie, most notably that the book does not cop out by making it all a dream! Then we listened to a podcast about L. Frank Baum, which pointed out that Baum at one point owned a general store in South Dakota not far from De Smet, where Laura and Almonzo Wilder lived at the same time--so it's not altogether unlikely that they might have met.

Speaking of Laura, we are still working our way through "On the Banks of Plum Creek. We finished Mary Poppins, and zipped through Charlotte's Web in two days, sitting under the oak tree in our side yard now that the weather's cooling off. And Z finished reading *to me* the abridged "Time Machine."

We've also been doing some revolutionary war history--I found all the episodes of PBS's "Liberty Kids" on Youtube. It's an animated series that tells the story of the American Revolution from the point of view of three young people who work at Ben Franklin's print shop and write for the Pennsylvania Gazette. It's pretty good history, and doesn't gloss over the uglier parts of the early colonial period--one of the main characters is black, and there are several episodes that highlight the discrepancy between all the freedom and liberty talk and slave ownership. The voice acting is a celebrity smorgasbord: Walter Kronkite as Ben Franklin, and if that isn't enough, Sylvester Stallone, Billy Crystal, Dustin Hoffman, *Arnold Schwarzenegger*, and Liam Neeson, just to name a few.

Capitalizing on Z's enjoyment of Liberty Kids, I've started reading him "Ben and Me," Robert Lawson's YA novel about the revolution from the point of view of Amos, a mouse who lives in Ben Franklin's hat and gives him all his brilliant ideas. This led to questions about electricity, whereupon I directed him to Daddy for a physics lesson, and some videos about generators.

Whew! Half the reason I write it all down like this is to convince myself that yes, we really are doing more than just sitting around playing video games all day, no matter how often it seems like that. :P Not that the games can't be educational, but it's so easy to fall back on.
05 September 2014 @ 03:04 pm
Glossing over the fact that I'm still suffering from conover (that's like a hangover from Dragoncon), and that I'm thus too brain-fried to recall much about *last* week in homeschooling, here's the rundown (slightly randomized due to that aforementioned conover):

Monday, of course, I was still at Dragoncon, and Tuesday I had to teach in the morning. My mother-in-law took care of the homeschooling for me--she's a retired elementary school teacher, so she really knows what she's doing. They had a whole daily schedule worked out, starting with calendar questions, then moving to printing practice, math practice, and journal writing. She'd gotten him started writing a sentence or two on his own every day, and then adding new words to a spelling glossary.

Tuesday afternoon, after the in-laws left, we watched the rest of the Little House on the Prairie movie. I can't find the episodes anywhere for streaming--Netflix has then on disk, but then I'd need to pay more for the DVD plan. :P

Wednesday morning we followed the homeschooling schedule again, then he went with me to the doctor's office to pick up my home sleep test. On the way there, he asked about something he'd heard about in a Dr. Who video--was there really a war in 1963? I figured they must have been talking about Viet then I ended up having to explain Viet Nam. And Communism. Ye gods, this kid...On the way home, we detoured by the library to drop some books off, and discovered a delightful little peace garden, complete with labyrinth and a post saying "Let peace reign on earth" in a dozen different languages.

We've also been playing Carcassonne, which Aaron picked up at the con, and it's turning out to be great for math practice, since I make him add up the points. He's gotten very good at counting by 2s to score the cities. I also showed him pictures of the real city of Carcassonne, in southern France.

Yesterday after I got back from class, there was more writing and math practice, plus we worked on making lanterns for Saturday's Beltline Lantern Parade. He's been wanting to go to one for ages now, but when we were on a preschool/camp sleep schedule, I didn't want to keep him out so late. Plus, the summer ones started at like 9:30. So he's very excited about finally getting to go to one. We also read another chapter of Mary Poppins, and his journal assignment was to write two sentences about either the book or the movie.

Since it rained yesterday, we got to go out and check the rain gauge--aha! That's one thing I remember from last week: we did some wood project kits, including a little flower pinwheel with a graduated test tube for measuring rainfall.

Oh, and he started his gymnastics class at the Y last night, and since there was a karate class directly after, we stayed to watch it to see if Z was interested. Which he most enthusiastically was, so we've got him signed up for that. Technically, it's not karate, it's a Korean form called Tang Soo Do.

Today I had to return the sleep test kit to the doctor's office, so I left him home (while Aaron slept), and assigned him to read a book from his bookshelf, so he could write two journal sentences about it when I got back. Which he did, then we did more printing practice, and got out some math games. We played three money-counting games, then a round of Carcassone, though he was whiny and overly prone to drama. Once he's gotten over that, we'll finish the lanterns and probably read some more Mary Poppins.
28 August 2014 @ 11:24 pm
A nice surprise on check-in at the Best Western--since we've been putting Z's preschool tuition on our BW credit card all year, I am now a "diamond" member. So not only did we get a free night from all the points we've racked up, we also got free parking (in the attached underground garage, which was full up for non-carborundum types), free snacks, and priority for booking next year's room when the con room block opens. I've never felt so special in my life.

22 August 2014 @ 04:56 pm
This week had its ups and downs in terms of how much we did and Z's frustration levels. The weekend was packed full of fun stuff: the Dunwoody Nature Center held a butterfly festival on Saturday, and we had a blast. We got there early to ensure a pass into the butterfly tent, then wandered around doing butterfly and caterpillar related crafts. We got our faces painted, got butterfly temporary tattoos, and finished up with ice cream and a magic show. Z explained to a woman next to us that the magician would make us look at something with one hand and then do something else with his other: "It's called misdirection!"

Sunday we met some friends at the Fox Theater for a singalong showing of Mary Poppins. Z was enchanted with the Fox, and I do believe this is the first time he's seen a movie all the way through in the theater (there was an attempt at Wreck-It Ralph last year, but it got cut short when Z was too scared to continue). We got there early enough to catch the organist playing some songs, with lyrics flashed on the screen. That was cool, but then they started all the pre-movie stuff and there was simply way too much of it. Ads for their sponsors, trailers for upcoming movies (classics, so they were showing the original trailers, but still), a newsreel, more trailers, and a truly awful Mr. Magoo cartoon. Z was getting squirmy by this point, and I couldn't blame him, but finally the movie started! Yay! And oh, my goodness, we sang and sang, and didn't stop singing even on the MARTA platform on the way home.

Monday, having decided we wanted to be Bert and Mary Poppins for Halloween, we went thrift shopping for a blue jacket and skirt for me to modify, and a black jacket to cut down for Z. We lucked out and found a vest in a little kid's size, and even a newsie cap!

Tuesday was kind of a wash; I stayed up too late the night before, so all I had the energy for was to teach my class, then come home and crash. That afternoon we read the last four chapters of Little House on the Prairie, since it was due back at the library. I did plan on taking Z to his gymnastics class that evening, but the Y is closed this month for renovations, and they'd postponed all the classes til they reopen.

Wednesday was also a tired day; ironically, I had an appointment with the sleep specialist (more blood tests! fun!) that morning, and was groggy all afternoon. We played a round of Settlers of Cataan, and I think we did a little time telling practice, but that was about it.

Thursday morning Z went with friends to the Botanical Garden while I was teaching my class. In the afternoon, Z had an eye exam, where he very bravely sat still for the dilation drops. Afterwards, we ran some errands. At home, once the drops wore off, Z wanted to play Sim City, and asked me to teach him to be a "Master City Builder."

Today was a good homeschooling day. One of the errands we'd run the day before was to buy a new kid camera to replace the one we'd gotten him in France--that one had a weird European USB cable that we lost in the move, and couldn't replace here. So this morning we read the directions and he practiced taking pictures. He's still having a hard time holding the camera still.

Then we broke out a science kit and made molecules out of plastic beads and sticks. He already knew that water is H20, and we added CO2, ammonia, and a couple other things. He was greatly amused when I explained what methane is. The molecule kit had a website for more science stuff, so we checked that out; it's a (literally) Flash-y site that's confusing to navigate, but eventually we found some videos with science experiments that we tried out: two air pressure activities, and one about measuring sound waves. The videos were slow to load, so while waiting, we did a few clock flashcards. Then we made more molecules, and Z decided he wanted to make molecules in Minecraft.

Tomorrow we are signed up for a carpentry workshop at Lowes, to make monster puppets!

15 August 2014 @ 01:15 pm
Off to a qualified auspicious start. Monday we met another family, friends from preschool, at the Atlanta History Center for their homeschool open house day. They do these once a month, with various themes, in addition to their monthly family Saturday programs, so I ponied up for the family membership. Z loved the blacksmith and woodworking demos, and after a sweaty walk around the historic farm, we gratefully reconvened in the air conditioned museum to do the treasure hunt in the folk art exhibit. We've been reading Little House on the Prairie, so I kept pointing things out to Z that we had read about: sunbonnets, Pa's fiddle, the log cabin walls; best of all, Z got to work the butter churn, just like Laura and Mary. :) (We've also watched most of the pilot episode of the Little House TV series on Youtube, but whoever posted it never got around to the last 10 minutes. Netflix only has it on disc, not streaming :P.)

Tuesday I was teaching, so we had friends (the same ones from the history center) come over to hang out with Z in the morning, and they played some math games in the driveway with sidewalk chalk. There was hopscotch and water cannon target practice. We'd been planning on a French lesson when I got home, but our friends had to leave. Aaron ended up taking Z to campus to run some errands.

Wednesday was our first sit-down homeschooling session. We spent about an hour learning to tell time and practicing printing. Z can make all his letters, but they tend to vary wildly in size, case, and placement. I have a dry-erase booklet with those double wide lines for practicing penmanship. We didn't do the whole alphabet, bc he was starting to get frustrated. The time telling went ok, but he's really dubious about the whole counting by fives for the minute hand. He really wants 8:40 to have the big hand on the eight and the little hand on the four.

Thursday I was working again, but in the afternoon Z decided he wanted to play piano, so I sat him on my lap at the bench and gave him a brief music lesson. Mainly just where to find the scale, and where to put his hands. Reading music is a whole separate skill, which we may not even do at the piano. I have a small electronic keyboard around here somewhere...Anyway, if he decides he's seriously interested, I'll look into a real piano teacher, since my keyboard ability begins and ends with where to find the scale and where to put my hands. Afterwards, we made cookies from the leftover pie crust dough, and I let him decorate them to death with colored sugar and sprinkles (necessary, since pie crust dough makes kind of weird cookies...but it worked well with the cookie cutters).

Today was a reiteration of Wednesday. More printing practice, and more telling time. He was getting frustrated with the counting minutes by fives thing again, but then while I was looking at something else for a moment, he said, "hey, I think I just learned something!" He positioned the practice clock hands on the 9 and the 20 and said, "This is 9:20, right?" A breakthrough! We also made digital number style flash cards in five minute increments and practiced putting them in order.

Looking this over, it sounds like a lot, but honestly there's been a lot of videos and gaming interspersed in there as well. My energy levels fluctuate madly over the course of a day, so I can manage about an hour of concentrated activity before needing to collapse for a bit.
A homeschooling triple whammie: a building project, a charity project that promotes literacy, and a tour of City Hall. Here's how it all started:

We were at a local park w/ some other kids from Z's preschool, and we found a Little Free Library. Later on, while geocaching, we found a cache that happened to be located in the back of yet another Little Free Library.

geocache LFL

Z got all excited about them, and I looked online to find out how to make one. Well, turned out they wanted $250 for the basic kit, and that's not counting paint and a post to stand the thing up on.

Enter my mom and her husband, Roger, who is, among other things, a carpenter. Mom did some further reading, and said, hey, I see some of these made like TARDISes! I bet Roger could make you a kit for a TARDIS! And he did. Bless him, he built the whole thing first to make sure it would work, then took it apart again so Z and I could say we made it ourselves. So while we were at Mom's place in Florida for the 4th, Roger helped us paint and assemble it. He still did the lion's share of the work, but Z can proudly say that he helped build his own TARDIS.

But where to put it? Neither Aaron nor I really liked the idea of attracting random strangers to our house. And we don't really live in a high traffic area where a lot of people would see it. I didn't fancy the idea of dealing w/ the city bureaucracy to get permission to put it in a park--but then Aaron reminded me that our part of town, Brookhaven, had recently incorporated to become its own city. So instead of Atlanta's bureaucracy, I'd be dealing with the much smaller Brookhaven bureaucracy.

So I looked up Brookhaven city hall, and discovered there was an open house meeting of the Parks and Recreation committee in July. Which is where Z and I were last Tuesday night, and we met both the mayor and our city councilman, who is going to put us in touch with a person who has a grant specifically for putting Little Free Libraries in the parks. He also gave us a tour of the new city hall and introduced us to the mayor. (For those non-Atlantans still reading, this is not as impressive as it sounds--Brookhaven is about the size of my high school.)
07 July 2014 @ 11:45 am
30 May 2014 @ 03:07 pm
Z has been attending Turning Sun School (previously Atlanta Progressive Preschool) since he was almost three years old. It's a great place, with a student-centered, play-based curriculum that emphasizes community involvement and an appreciation of nature. And, a bonus for our family, it's completely secular. They don't even do Christmas--just a winter festival. A clue as to how inclusive the place is: on the application form, it doesn't ask for a child's gender, but their gender *identity*. Our kind of place.

He's had a lot of great experiences at TSS, and made lots of friends. But he's six now (!) and it's time to move on to bigger things. So this week we said goodbye to all the wonderful people at TSS. There was a graduation ceremony, where the kids got chunks of crystal instead of diplomas, and a pizza picnic after school today. Z was sad to be leaving, which is quite change from last year when I had to pry him, crying, off my arms to drop him off in the morning.

We've got YMCA camp this summer, six weeks of regular day camp, and six weeks of gymnastics, which he still loves. A couple kids from TSS will be doing that as well, so he'll be able to see his friends from school. What comes next?

Well, I always wanted to homeschool. Before I had a kid, before I was married, before I even *met* Aaron, I was interested in homeschooling. But then I discovered--this stay-at-home mom gig, while not without its benefits, is not really for me. I'm a really good go-out-and-do-stuff mom, but when we're at home, Z makes a beeline for the computer and I confess sometimes I'm all too happy to let him. So I started looking into other school options.

Well. Montessori, everyone tells me, is the way to go--but a year of Montessori costs more than my graduate degree. Likewise Atlanta International School, with their immersive language programs. A local charter school opened last year, which also offers immersive language programs, but it's a small place, there's a lottery to get in, and we were number 200-mumble on the wait list, so forget that. There's a Sudbury school in Avondale, but that's all the way on the other side of town. :P And don't talk to me about Waldorf. There are issues with Waldorf. And our local elementary, while a nice enough place, wants you there at 7:30 in the morning. Srlsy?

So. Homeschooling it is. A couple other families at TSS will be doing it as well, so we're sticking together and comparing notes. I may be trading French lessons for nannying when I go back to teaching my English classes. And I'll have to figure out a way to limit the computer time. We shall see how it goes.