September 29, 2010

Time Management

I have serious time management issues. I think I always have. When I was in high school, I had an AP History teacher, I'll call him Mr. H., and I remembering receiving a lecture from him about this very topic. 

I remember it vividly. We were assigned an essay to practice for the AP exam and this particular one was due on a Monday. However, he had a grading schedule that stated that essays handed in on Tuesday would be deducted one point, and those handed in on Wednesday would be deducted two points. After that, you just got a zero. Well, I was a procrastinator, I'll admit it, and I had a lot going on that week and decided I'd have time to do the essay Wednesday and just hand it in late. So Wednesday came and I started the essay in homeroom, worked on it in between classes and a little during orchestra and was able to finish it off on my walk to history class; nothing like getting it done under the wire. When I handed it to Mr. H. he just looked at me, astonished, and ask, "What is this?" That's when I told him it was my essay. Shocked that I was handing it in late, he told me it had been due Monday. When I explained that his grading policy stated it could be handed in late with a point reduction, he told me that it may say that, but he's never had a student hand it in late. He began to lecture me in front of the whole class about how I really need to work on my 'time management' skills so that this never happens again. He was thoroughly disappointed in me. I on the other hand now possessed a new phrase that I could use to describe why I'm often late, frequently disorganized and always feel like deadlines are looming; I've got poor time management skills.

Skip ahead a couple of decades and I'm still suffering from the same malady. It may be a personality defect or perhaps I take on more in my schedule than I should; I really don't know why I have always had this problem, but it is definitely affecting the homeschooling.

I've mentioned before that I really like having a schedule. I love when I get all organized and feel on top of things. But sadly, it just never lasts very long. I developed this detailed schedule on the inner workings of our day and have now gotten to the point where I have stopped even referring to it. After breakfast I just say, "Time for Language Arts!" We do that until we're done, and then we move onto math. We do that until Casia needs a break or I have to get Garrett ready for school. After that, I never know what's going to happen. I do make a weekly plan for each subject the week before, and we usually get a lot of it covered. But I am also prone to being distracted and I'm starting to think Casia is taking advantage of this.

Today she got me talking about Baby Boomers and we ended up having an in-depth conversation on that topic when she was supposed to be working on an essay. Well, she hates writing, and I think she got on this tangent on purpose to stall, because when I said, "Hey, you're supposed to be working on that essay," she smiled a little and said, "Oh, yeah!" 

We also spent close to an hour in search of a missing over-due library book. I've seriously checked any place it could possibly be: under couch cushions, behind book shelves, under beds, the back seat of the car. It's disappeared. I don't know how this happened since I have two a designated library book bins; one for 'not read' and one for 'read'. They are easily accessible and the rule is just one book out per person at a time. Well, nobody, including me, follows this rule and books are infrequently placed back in the return bin by their reader. Instead, on library day, I have to look up online which books are due and we make a mad scramble to find them. The bins were supposed to make it easier, but apparently my disorganization and time management issues are a family affliction.  

September 28, 2010

Math Woes

The title is misleading.  We're not having problems with the math itself, just figuring out where to go from here.  

Last year, Casia finished the first year of a two-year program with her school. She was bused to the middle school with roughly 20 other kids; mostly 5th graders, but a couple of other 4th graders as well. The program was designed for kids advanced in math to complete 6th grade and half of 7th grade while in 5th grade and then finish the rest of 7th and all of 8th in 6th grade when they move to the middle school. So she was roughly halfway through 7th grade math at the end of the year.

I spent the summer looking at different curricula and figuring out which style would be best suited to Casia's needs. I decided to try Singapore Math. They recommend for U.S. students to do the level below the last grade level completed and I gave her the assessment. Both indicated starting at the 6th grade level. I purchased the textbook, workbook and the teacher's guide. 

The pros: It was pretty inexpensive. It cost about $45 for curriculum designed for half a year. I also like the the heavy emphasis on word problems. And there are NO multiple choice question- ever. Multiple choice tests for Casia are not a good way to judge what she knows. She is an extremely good test taker and often manages to figure out the correct answer even on material with which she is unfamiliar. Much to her dismay, I avoid them like the plague.  

The cons: It is a little tricky for me to figure out where the teacher's manual corresponds to the textbook and the workbook. They do have things labeled in bold in the manual, but you still have to search through the text.  It may very well have been my deficient instruction reading skills, but it usually took me a couple minutes to pin point where they match up. It wasn't a big deal; just thought I'd mention it. The other problem is the pace. Again, I'm not sure that this is a shortcoming with Singapore. It is more likely just something we will continually be dealing with in regards Casia's schooling. 

Casia completed the whole half-year instruction in three weeks. Now what?

I was looking into ordering the next few books, through 7 and maybe even 8, but when I looked at what they encompass it looks like a lot of review. I know that part of the reason we moved so quickly is that there were a couple of sections that involved review and we blazed through those. But even with the material that was new or that had been introduced before but never mastered, Casia still picked it up quickly. With one-on-one instruction we were able to zip through the sections covering multiple topics in a sitting. We spent no more than about 45-60 minutes a day doing math, some days we spent even less. And that includes the homework from the workbook that I assigned her.  

I decided to look at what comes next. I looked at what Singapore has for Algebra and they recommend this book: Algebra by Gefland and Shen. They were out of stock with it and Amazon had a cheaper price. Plus I like to read all the reviews that Amazon has. I've ordered the book and think we're going to just dive into Algebra. I am thinking of also going back to a program Casia used to love called ALEKS. It's an online math course that lets you move at your own pace. I might combine the two having Casia review areas that she hasn't mastered and also move on to Algebra. I think she's ready and if I'm wrong, well, we'll figure it out from there. This is one of those times when I feel like I'm navigating unchartered waters. It's a little scary starting my 8 year-old on Algebra. Considering the pace she is moving at, it is also terrifying when I realize it is only a matter of a few years at most until she is ready for a college level math class. Yikes! I just can't even fathom that right now.

September 27, 2010

Chicken Mummification Part 2 (a.k.a. Nkuku Part Ew!)

It was finally time to pull Nkuku (see "Chicken Mummification") out of the garage and see what is happening in the mummification process. Casia was very excited but I was a little apprehensive and not sure what would be waiting for us. I'd been in the garage a few times, and detected no foul stench wafting over from his corner, so I was sort of hopeful that this wouldn't be a painful olfactory experience.

An excited Casia in her rubber gloves.
It was a beautiful fall day, which was lucky because this was definitely an outdoor activity. We spread some newspaper out and gathered our supplies: scale, rubber gloves, garbage bag, salt, spice mixture and replacement bags. Then we brought out Nkuku. Casia began her observations even before she opened the air-tight bucket. She sniffed and detected no odor. Then she open the lid. Carefully, she eased her nose towards the bucket until she had her head right over it and still, she gave it the thumbs up for no malodorous whiff. So with great anticipation she heaved the heavy bag from the container and placed it on the newspaper. 

This is Casia giving the 'thumbs-up' indicating it doesn't stink. Unfortunately, the gloves are a few sizes too big for her to make that gesture.

"It's all sloshy!" she declared. And so it was. I could see the vast amount of liquid pooled at the bottom of the bag, filling several inches. She set it down and I immediately realized I needed to add another tool to our list of supplies. We needed scissors. There was no way I was going to try to open the knotted end of that bag with so much liquid inside. So after I ran to get some scissors, I had Casia cut open the bag. When she got to the third bag, she threw her head to the side to try and take in a fresh breath of air. "It smells!" she yelled as she cringed away from the chicken.  

There are about four inches of liquid in the bag.

Now I've take my share of biology and anatomy classes and have had the opportunity to dissect frogs, a cat, a pig's alimentary canal and various other animals and animal parts, and I can honestly say, the smell emanating from Nkuku was not the worst I'd ever breathed, but it was still pretty stinky! 

Casia pulled the chicken from the bags and laid him on the newspaper and we threw out the bags with the liquid. She then proceeded to wipe off as much salt and residue as she could. She was able to get rid of most of it. I had to pry open his back end because she didn't have the strength and his body was very rigid. Casia then stuck her hand inside and wiped out the salt. When he was as clean as we could get him, we weighed him on the scale and found that he weighed about 4.5 lbs; down from 6 lbs. at our last weighing. 

Cleaning the salt from Nkuku. He was a little stiff and a lot stinky.

We then placed Nkuku into the new grocery-sized bag and I pried him open so Casia could dump a 15 oz. can of salt into him. She poured a second container around him in the bag. Then I pushed as much air out of the bag as possible and knotted the bag closed. I placed it inside another bag, tied it, and repeated.  Nkuku was now ready to re-enter his temporary resting place in the air-tight bucket.  

It has been a smelly project so far, but not as bad as I had expected; although, I might add, it was worse than Casia had expected. We will pull him out again in a couple more weeks to check on the his progress in this mummification experiment.

September 21, 2010

Field Trip

Today we took our first field trip and Casia was very excited! We went to a favorite local park with wooded trails and bridges spanning streams. There Casia collected various samples of flora and fauna. She's learning about taxonomy in science and she is planning on making a display of her specimens.

Casia with her binoculars. We didn't see many birds; just geese, crows and woodpeckers. We heard a couple others that we couldn't identify. Casia was delighted to spy two  nests in trees.

Casia's big find of the day: an earthworm. 
She named him Wriggles.

Casia collected water samples from the streams. We'll take a look under the microscope later to see what interesting things we can identify.

Casia with her goody bags. She collected numerous leaves, moses, ferns, flowers and fungi specimens.

Casia chasing a dragonfly. 
She never caught up to it.

We had a beautiful afternoon learning and laughing together!

September 20, 2010


Monday is geography day. Since we are covering ancient Egypt, I felt it fitting that we cover the geography of Egypt.  I considered printing out a map of Egypt and having Casia learn all the major geographic features like the Nile, Cairo, the Sahara Desert, etc., but then I thought about how dry an activity that is; just looking a map and trying to remember what's on it. Instead, I decided to give Casia a blank map. I told her to put whatever she thinks is important on it and that she's expected to learn whatever she has labeled. I did hesitate with this decision; what if she doesn't put much of anything on it?  But I have confidence in her desire to learn and decided this was an excellent chance to give her some freedom in her curriculum. I handed her a globe, an atlas and a few books on Egypt that include maps. She really took the activity seriously and included neighboring countries, and all the major cities we've read about in our history books.  

Casia's map of Egypt

After completing her map, I set her up on the computer with a website that is great for learning geography. Since the year long plan for history is to cover all the early civilizations and each continent will be represented at some point, I plan to have her learn all the countries on each continent as we study different civilizations (excepting Antarctica). Now before I get flamed for be a pushy parent, because it does indeed sounds like a lot to learn all the countries, let me explain a few things. First off, Casia loves geography and is into the whole idea. Secondly, I don't expect complete mastery. I just want her to have a general knowledge of where in the world any particular country is located. If we're reading a story about a boy in Peru, I'd like her to know that it's in South America and then be able to find it on a map.  

That being said, Casia is not content with that level of understanding. Today, after only about 30 minutes on the computer she went from knowing only those countries located on her 'Egypt Map' to being able to be given any country on the continent of Africa and being able to drop it onto the map with only rivers and coastlines as her guides (level 4 on the website).  It was pretty impressive. She says she'd also like to learn the capitals, so maybe that will be next Monday.  

If you've got a child that is interested in geography, I highly recommend this site.  In second grade, Casia used it to learn all the states and their capitals. They have other activities as well, like math, chemistry (you can learn the periodic table!) and language arts. 

September 17, 2010

Sick Day - Already?!

It's Friday and the end of the first full week of school; or it would have been, if we hadn't already needed a sick day. I feel like we haven't hit our groove yet and I'm trying not to get discouraged. Last week our school district started back on Wednesday and we mimicked their schedule with just three days of school. This week, we were going strong Monday and Tuesday, until Casia came down with a virus. She took a sick day Wednesday and just did some reading on the couch. She was better by that evening, but then I was sick. On Thursday, I lightened the academic load to just math and language arts and then took Casia to a gym class at the local Y that afternoon.

In addition to the adjusted work load this week due to illness, emotions have been running a little high. I've been coming off of medication for some poison ivy I incurred a couple of weeks ago and it has been affecting my sleep and making me a little irritable (okay, maybe a bit more than that). For Casia, the transition to homeschooling was easy over the summer. She loves all the projects and doesn't even complain too much about the writing assignments. The academic pluses were an easy sell, but now that she knows everyone is at school and she's not; now that the reality of homeschooling has sunk in, I think it's upset her more than she thought it would. I know it will just take some time and it's only been a week, but the cumulation of frustrations from my end and disappointment from hers has been creating some tension.  

We've both been a bit snippy this week and neither one has been showing much patience. When it comes to the school work, Casia has been doing everything I ask with a fairly positive attitude. However, she has had some focus issues; staying on task and not becoming distracted with her surroundings. This I expected and anticipate will take a few more weeks to really settle into a routine. It's the rest of time: meals, errands, bedtimes; these are the times when she becomes emotionally volatile and I become exasperated.

I'm trying not to put too much pressure on us. It shouldn't really matter that we haven't been able to follow the schedule for even one day. It's not a catastrophe just because we haven't covered as much material as I'd planned. I'm sure she hasn't fallen behind. Even if she'd started back to public school this year, there would be an adjustment period getting back into the swing of things. I know she's learning and that's what is important. I know we're figuring out this homeschooling lifestyle together and it's not going to go smoothly all the time, or work perfectly any of the time. I know my expectations have been ambitious and I need to give us some room to get the feel for how it will work. It's just sometimes hard to see around the corner. But I'm confident we'll bounce back after a restful weekend. To quote a favorite childhood author:

"Tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it." 
                                                                     ~ L. M. Montgomery 

September 14, 2010

Look-Out Perch

I've only been at this a short time, but I'm already finding some unexpected perks to homeschooling. Today it was Casia climbing into her magnolia tree to do some reading; just for a change of scenery. Notice, she still hasn't made it out of her pajamas and it was well past lunch.

Reading from 'Look-Out Perch', a favorite spot in her magnolia tree.

When I'm listening to Casia explain that Imhotep's design in the Step Pyramid symbolized the pharaoh's ascent to heaven, sometimes it's easy to forget that she's only eight years old. And like many kids her age, she gets the wiggles and squirmies. We've recently been having lots of fun finding ways for her to expel those fidgety sensations.  It's reassuring to know that she has the freedom to run a lap around the house, stretch into splits, take a quick swinging break or even go climb a tree. After which, she returns to lessons refreshed and focused and ready to discover.

September 13, 2010

Chicken Mummification

One of the most alluring aspects of the ancient Egyptian society that Casia and I have been studying is the mummification process. It played such an integral part in their religion and culture and is so fascinating, I kept wishing I could work the topic in through more than just some books and videos. Then I stumbled upon the term 'chicken mummification' while online. Intrigued by the thought of making a science project out of mummification, I googled 'chicken mummification' and found literally pages of sites with recipes and how-to's. By this point in her study of Egypt, Casia had watched four engrossing videos that included the history and process of mummification, early archeological digs, and scientific examinations including x-rays, CAT scans and DNA testing of various mummies. She has also read many of the books we pulled from the library on the subject. I've listed the movies and my three favorite books at the bottom of this post.

Now while Jacob thinks I'm a bit nutty to be doing this, Casia couldn't be more excited. So we purchased the smallest roasting chicken I could find (unfortunately it was over 6lbs - I would highly recommend a smaller one!) At first I was going to insist that Casia do all the work, but when she couldn't maneuver the giant bird in the sink on her own, I settled for her removing all the insides and spraying it clean. I then pulled it out, patted it dry and plopped it on the counter. Casia spent about ten minutes examining it. I told her to use all her senses but taste! It turns out hearing wasn't so useful either. We then discussed what a hypothesis is and I asked her to form one about the mummification process. Casia replied that she knows that the salt pulls water out of the body to dry it out and turn it into a mummy. So I asked her what kind of question she could ask about the process and how she could go about testing it. She thought about it and decided that if the salt is pulling the water out of the chicken, we should be able to weigh the chicken and see that it's getting lighter. So she decided that in addition to touching, smelling, and looking at the chicken, she wanted to weigh it as well. So I grabbed the bathroom scales and we plopped the big bird on it.   

After Casia completed her examination of our subject, I placed it in a gallon sized zip-lock bag. I held the chicken upright while she poured an entire 26 oz. can of salt into the center cavity. She then sprinkled some cinnamon and baking soda on the outside of the chicken. I'd heard it could help with the smell and she felt it brought more authenticity to the process since the priests used spices during mummification in ancient Egypt. Casia then opened another salt container and proceeded to pour the entire contents into the bag around the outside of the poultry. Unfortunately, it was at this point that I realized that the chicken was in fact too big for the bag.  So with some difficulty, I pulled it out and used a small grocery bag instead. I knotted the bag at the top after pushing out as much air as possible and then repeated with an additional grocery bag.  Then I placed it inside a bucket with a tight sealing lid.  And there he sits. Waiting.  

Casia preparing the chicken for mummification.

Close-up of the chicken covered in cinnamon, baking soda and a LOT of salt.  This was after I discovered it was too big for the bag.

Casia has since named him Nkuku, which is Egyptian for rooster. And yes, I did explain that roasting chickens are really hens, but she's decided HE will be Pharoah Nkuku and when the mummification process is complete, she plans on wrapping him in linen and adorning his sarcophagus with all the finery due a royal chicken. I'm not sure, but I think she plans to bury him in the backyard.  

To go along with the science experiment, I assigned Casia the task of of doing a write up. This was a new concept for her but I think she did a great job! She was told to include a hypothesis, procedure and measurements and observations. This is what she came up with:

We have about a week left in wait time and then we'll haul ol' Nkuku out of the garage and see how he's doing.  At that time, we'll clean out all the salt, re-examine him and then repack him in salt for a couple more weeks.  I'll report back on our progress!

Movies on Mummies:

  • A Nova production, "The Mummy Who Would Be King"
  • National Geographic, "King Tut's Final Secret"
  • Time-Life Video. "Egypt: Quest for Immortality"
  • Discovery Channel, "Nefertiti Resurrected"

Books that I would recommend on the subject:
  • DK Eyewitness Books, Mummy (This has great photographs, very brief coverage of variety of mummy topics including bog mummies, the Iceman, animal mummies and mummies from around the world.)
  • Mummies Made in Egypt, by Aliki (This book gives a very brief but detailed description of the mummification process with a lot of illustrations; great for younger kids- very accessible.)
  • Mummies, Tombs and Treasure: Secrets of Ancient Egypt by Lila Perl (This book is written in a narrative form so it flows more easily than the DK book.  It has a lot of general information about Egyptian history, cultural, mythology and of course, mummies.)

September 8, 2010

Official First Day

Today is the "official" back-to-school day in our district. I've been working in a bit of homeschooling here and there over the summer, but today is the day it begins, officially.

I have spent the last couple of weeks planning and tweaking the schedules for the start of the school year. There are three schedules: mine, Casia's and Garrett's. Everyone has their schedule posted so they can see what they should be doing at any 15 minute interval of the day. I have to have a plan or I feel lost.

So my day begins ahead of the kids so I can get a quick shower in and some household chores started.  Afterwards, a hot breakfast and then at promptly 8am, Casia's schooling begins. It's language arts instruction followed by math while Garrett finds ways to amuse himself (namely playing outside). Then Casia has some independent work while I spend some quality one-on-one time with Garrett reading or playing a game. Both the kids get a break to play outside while I finish a few household chores and start lunch. After lunch, I get Garrett on the bus and I have a few minutes to catch up on paper work and prep for the afternoon while Casia practices her musical instruments. Depending on the day we focus on either social studies or science while Garrett is at school. The after school schedule is different every day of the week with a gym class at the Y for Casia on one day, drum lessons for Garrett on another, rock climbing for Casia on yet another or time specifically set aside to play and have social outings.There's also one afternoon set aside just to run errands. Evenings are pretty straight  forward with Girl Scouts one night and the rest of the week is a quiet dinner at home followed by relaxing family time. Sounds great, huh?

If only it ran that well today. In fact, it didn't run that way at all today. It ran, that's for sure, it ran really quickly, but it looked a lot more like this....

I overslept! Then there was an overnight accident from my son which created unexpected laundry and an extra person to shower. By the time I got downstairs, it was already 8am. After feeding the kids, making Jacob's lunch, a speedy clean-up and grabbing a quick bite to eat myself, I was running about 45 minutes behind, but there was one just one more thing I just had to do before we got started.  

A tradition I have done each year on the first day of school is to take a picture of Casia standing in front of the magnolia tree in our yard. We planted that tree when Casia was born to commemorate the occasion. We have since dubbed the magnolia "Casia's Tree".  We have a maple that we planted at our wedding eleven years ago and another was planted when Garrett was born. His is a sycamore.  And because I know this transition to homeschooling after four years of public school is a little tough on Casia, I wanted to try to keep some of the same traditions. I wanted today to still have that important feel for her. So I asked her if I could take her picture. She was eager, as I'd expected, but she wanted to still stay in her pjs.  It was one of the perks I used to help sell the homeschooling idea over the summer. Sure, I say, as we head out the door. But instead of the tired old pose with the backpack waiting for the bus in front of the tree, she climbs on up and poses from up high. "It's not like I'm waiting for the bus," she cries with a bit of glee. That's the attitude, Casia!

Heading back in, it was already almost 9am. I asked Casia to grab her notebook and meet me in the kitchen (her preferred homeschooling location) and ran to get my stuff from my office. Came back to the kitchen and Casia was no where to be found. Ah, I hear the kids in the family room, so I head over there. They're playing a game together, which always makes me smile, but sadly, I've got a schedule to keep! Sorry kiddos, Casia needs to get started but I promise them there will be some together playtime before lunch. Casia trots off to get her stuff and I hear the washer stop in the laundry room, so I run to switch the load really quickly. As I'm doing this, Garrett shows up with a Superhero picture from the game he's playing with the name Punisher on it. He wants to know if he's a good guy or bad guy. No idea!  But I promise to check it out before the morning is through. I hop back into the kitchen and there's still no Casia. I find her in the dining room around the corner, where her homeschooling stuff is stored on bookshelves, only she's not pulling out the school stuff, she's distracted with Legos. Casia- focus!  School stuff, then meet in the kitchen in 3 minutes. Garrett calls out to me. He's pulled his ginormous superhero book off the shelf and wants me to read the part about the Punisher. So I read it to him and it turns out Punisher is a vigilante, kind of good but kind of bad, hope that clears it up, Garrett.

Back to Casia. Finally, we're starting. Casia writes out her quote for the day. Then I give her a spelling pretest. It's a short week so I made a short list. During the week she has to write a sentence for each word she missed on the pretest. On Friday she will be tested on the whole list. Then the grammar lesson. We reviewed nouns; types of nouns and pronouns.  I gave her a paragraph in which she had to underline all the nouns and circle the pronouns. Next up- math!

Last time we did math it was a unit ending test. She's working on algebra with ratios, proportions and fractions. We went over the couple of problems she got wrong on the test. I taught her a new way to approach the algebra problems and she she picked it up effortlessly, so tomorrow we can move onto percentages.

We were starting to hit some smooth sailing at this point.  Garrett was amusing himself nicely outside while I had instruction time with Casia. I felt like we covered some, if not all of the material I wanted to cover in math and language arts.  At this point I stopped to take a deep breathe and relaxed.  With morning lessons over, I sent Casia out to play with Garrett, skyped Jacob to fill in him a little, and then started making lunch.  We had a nice lunch of sandwiches and fresh fruit and talked all about Garrett's upcoming first day. Casia gave him lots of advice, like 'don't brag' and make sure you sit in the first two seats behind the bus driver. I told him to remember to ask the other kids their name and have fun!

After lunch, things started to get a little hectic again. Garrett managed to come in from outside dirty and is always a messy eater, so there was an outfit change with a lot of washing before school. There is a bus sign he's supposed to wear and I hadn't emptied the pictures off my memory card. Those were just a couple of the several last minute things I ran around remembering before we made it out the door. Then it was a mini-photo shoot of Garrett on his first day of Kindergarten!

Garrett in front of his Sycamore Tree.

Garrett is animately cheering for the bus to show up.

Casia is sharing in her brother's excitement.  

So we wait, and wait, and wait a little more. The buses always run slowly the first day of school because of all the crazy parents like me who just have to get a picture of their little one climbing those big first steps of independence onto the bus. This is what Garrett has been waiting for, all summer long. Not school so much, but that first thrilling bus ride. The anticipation was killing him; us really, it was so infectious. Then, from around the corner I hear it! It's here, I shout. With camera posed, and last minute instructions about how to turn and wave as he steps into the bus...  

Wooosh!  The bus blows right past the driveway.  Wrong bus? Maybe? Hopefully? Nope. I catch the number on the side as it zooms by.  That was it. I run after it, with camera in hand, free arm waving wildly. It slows... a little... but then picks up speed again. It's gone and I turn back to the house and there's Garrett.  The tears were streaming down his sad little face.  From ecstasy to utter devastation in less than a minute.

In the aftermath, I was eventually able to calm him down.  A quick face wash to clean away the tears, a little pep talk and we were ready for the drive to school.  The kids played on the playground while we waited for the buses to arrive. When they did, we introduced ourselves to the driver and she was nice enough to let Garrett climb aboard for a quick picture and I once again had my smiley, happy sunshine all ready for his big first day.  

So that was my morning and it held a valuable lesson for me. The unexpected will happen. We will run late.  We may not get everything done that we'd planned. But it's all good. I slowed our pace that afternoon. Casia practiced her violin and then her trumpet. We did a shortened history lesson on ancient Egypt and Casia read and then climbed some more trees. Later, she and I had a great time baking some oatmeal raisin cookies to surprise Garrett with when he got home from school.  As we were bonding during the mixing and measuring, Casia leaned into me and said, "Mom, I love being able to help you make the cookies. It's even better than being surprised by them when I came home from school."  I knew then that even with the delays and disappointments, this has been a very successful "official" first day.  

September 4, 2010

Fossil Making

Since our part-time summer homeschooling was going so swimmingly, I decided to add in another subject; science. Casia's science instruction in school was all over the map. They covered some weather, a little electricity, butterflies and lots of other little odds and ends. I really didn't know where I should start.  Fortunately, my sister gave Casia a Biology book the previous year and we never really got a chance to get into it. I decided to pull it out and see how I could best put it to use.

The book is a Prentice Hall, Biology: The Study of Life. While perusing the chapters, I noticed a few things that attracted me to the book.  The first is that they have a Laboratory Investigation at the end of each chapter, many making use of a microscope, some basic chemistry and some really cool hands on experiments - very exciting!  The other aspects that appealed to me were that it seems really well organized, covers topics I know she is interested in delving into and it's all in one place so there's less leg work I'll have to do for science.

Since we've been covering early humans in history, literature and art, it seemed only natural to go straight to the chapters on evolution.  She learned about fossils and how they are used to further our knowledge of the distant past.  We discussed early and modern hypotheses on the origins of life.  We also covered the modern Theory of Evolution and the processes of adaption and natural selection.

I then assigned her the reading of Who Was Charles Darwin, by Deborah Hopkinson for another Language Arts book. (Casia and I both love the "Who Was..." series of books, and I highly recommend them for kids that love to read biographies.)

And because I love to end  the day with a project, we followed all this up with making our own fossils.  I sent Casia and her brother, Garrett, out into the yard to collect any plants that have unique shapes and textures.  Meanwhile, I hopped on line to find a fossil dough recipe.  I came across this page:

We followed the instructions and then rolled out the dough onto wax paper.  The kids then had a lot of fun pressing their nature findings into the dough.  When we were done, they each had their own piece of dough with visible impressions.  We left it to sit out for a couple of days to dry, but it took a really long time with all the humidity.  Even when I pulled them out again a couple of days later and took the 'after' pictures, they still weren't dry all the way through. 

Mixing Ingredients

This was a very simple recipe that both kids were able to do independently.  They love cooking, so these kinds of projects are always a hit.

Pressing Flowers 

The kids gathered a nice variety of objects to put in their dough; flowers, twigs, various leaves, a cricket, mushrooms, twigs and a feather.

Feeling the Fossils

You can see in this picture that it still wasn't completely dry after two days, but it dried enough to give the kids the feel for what a real fossil is.

Yay! Project #2 was also a success, even with the problem of not drying out. Casia loved every aspect of this project and it was very simple to do. Another two thumbs up!

September 3, 2010

Cave Painting

The idea that art, history, literature and science can be taught as interwoven and overlapping subjects appeals to me. Whenever possible, I plan to combine these disciplines to give a broader view to topics we will cover. So I was very excited when I realized I could blend all four subject areas for our first topic of Early Humans.

When last I wrote, Casia was studying the early humans. One of the characteristics that she learned that set humans apart from other hominids was their abstract reasoning abilities best exemplified by their art. We looked at pictures of the cave paintings from Lascoux, France online and read about other primitive art forms like carving.

I assigned her a historical fiction book called, The Boy of the Painted Cave, by Justin Denzel to read for Language Arts, which tied in very neatly with our history lesson. She wasn't a huge fan of the book and that might have had something to do with the fact that it was about an adolescent boy, named Tao, who spent a good deal of time in nature hunting; not something with which Casia relates. I enjoyed the book myself, but I think the adjective she choose to describe the book was 'slow'. She did, however, like the parts about Tao sneaking off to the caves to learn to paint despite it being a taboo in his culture to do so. It talks in detail about how he learned to make his own brushes and mix his paints from the natural resources in his environment. He won the support of the master cave painter and in the end was allowed to practice his art.

So the book wasn't a huge success in capturing her interest, but there was a limited selection of historical fiction from which I had to draw (no pun intended). It did, however, give rise to the idea for a corresponding art project that Casia found very satisfying.

I thought that if Tao could make his own paints and brushes for cave painting, then so can we! I quickly ditched the idea of mixing our own paint when I realized how much work it was going to be. I was trying to keep the project to a single afternoon. But Casia was able to make her very own primitive brush by cutting off a fresh branch from our lilac bush and then pounding it between two rocks until it separated and softened the edge. We took some old brown craft paper we had sitting around and Casia crinkled it to give it a textured appearance. We then taped it to the garage wall. With some crayola paints, her cool new brush and her very own cave wall, she set to work creating an animal scene like those described in the book and see online.

Making a brush from a branch

Here Casia is smashing a fresh cut lilac bush branch between two rocks.  After just a couple of minutes she had a very rudimentary brush.  She loves hands-on so this was something she really enjoyed doing.

Casia Cave Painting

Casia crinkled some brown craft paper and we taped it on the garage wall.  

Finished Art Work

Even though we ended up going with her crayola paints instead of making our own, Casia stuck to the colors that were mentioned in the book. She also choose animals from the book as her subjects. She wanted it to be more 'authentic'.

I would rate this project a success in both ease of preparation and interest level for Casia. I highly recommend it!

September 2, 2010

"Caveman Concentration"

Figuring out when and how to start the homeschooling process was a bit overwhelming. I started my research on homeschooling the previous year and have read more than a dozen books on the subject. I've read numerous posts, blogs and websites dedicated to homeschooling or gifted education. 

I love to gather information and sift through it. But when it comes to actually starting a new endeavor, I suffer from what my husband, Jacob, says is “action paralysis”. He also tells me that I research too much. I pass the point of diminishing returns where every extra hour spent researching delivers less benefit. I just can't seem to help myself. I like to have a solid plan; to figure out the best way to do something. I'm a self-proclaimed dissatisfied perfectionist. I want everything to be just right, but it's an unobtainable goal and I often suffer disappointment at what I could have done better. The problem is that it isn't realistic. Sometimes you just have to jump in; take action. Sometimes the best way to learn is to do. I'm trying to embrace this philosophy but it goes against my natural grain.

So I decided that over the summer, in between vacations and family fun, I would start small. I picked one of Casia's favorite subjects; history. But where to begin? Her 4th grade class last year covered some New York State history including Native Americans, colonial times and and the American Revolution. Should I pick up where that left off? Or maybe modern history would hold more appeal because she can relate to it more and it has greater bearing on our present day lives? In the end, I just decided to start at the beginning. So our first topic of study was Early Humans.

Since we're on a limited budget and I've always been a huge fan of the library, we started there. We checked out all the books on Early Humans I could find.  I've found that I really like the way the DK Eyewitness Books present the material. They use lots of pictures and present it in a kid-friendly way. It's a really good way to cover the basics and I think I will turn to their books first as we broach new topics. We also picked up a couple of books on archeology to give her some background on how we learn about ancient people. 

After reading the books we checked out, Casia decided she wanted to create a game she calls “Caveman Concentration”. On a series of index cards, she wrote the name of an early hominid. On a separate card she wrote what approximate years they existed. On yet another, the geographic area in which they existed. And on a final card, she wrote what their major unique characteristics were. She did this for each of the major hominids going back to the Australopithecines. Once done with the index cards, she shuffled them together and laid them face down in rows and columns. The game is played similarly to concentration where you flip two cards on your turn. If the cards correspond to the same hominid (four cards per hominid, so two possible matches to make), you get to keep them and go again. If they don't match, you flip them back and it's the next player's turn. It was fun, but it meant that I had to memorize all their names and corresponding facts as well. I have a feeling I will be learning a lot while homeschooling Casia!

September 1, 2010

Starting Our Journey

I never intended to homeschool. I didn't know much about it, but I knew it wasn't for me. I'm not patient, I don't like a lot of structure and I'm bad a record keeping. Additionally, Casia was such an intense child from very early on, always asking questions, making elaborate games and structures, wanting to experiment, requiring explanations for everything, that by the time Kindergarten was around the corner, I was eager to send her off to school. I needed the blissfully quiet 2½ hour break!

Casia is my oldest child and I really didn't realize how far ahead academically she was when she entered school at four years and nine months. I knew she was bright, and fairly sure she was gifted. After all, both my husband and I were identified as gifted in school. Casia was an early reader, but not exceptionally early. She had a few sight words at age two, she could sound out many words at three, but then her reading stalled for awhile because she was frustrated with words that didn't follow the rules. When she picked it up again at age four it started to take off and by the time she was five years old she was reading short chapter books like the Magic Tree House series. At six years old she began the Harry Potter series and finished the whole set within eleven months. Now, at age eight and a half she is reading at the high school level. Shakespeare and Dickens are among her favorite authors.

In math she was also advanced. She knew how to add, subtract, multiply and divide while still in preschool. She understood fractions and could add ¾ plus ¾ by the time she was four. She learned to skip count and tell time to the second on an analog clock before she turned five. I knew that was ahead of the curve for kindergarten, but I really had no sense of how far ahead. So I felt confident that the local public school would be able to challenge her properly-after all, they told me they could.

In Kindergarten we ran into a few problems. Namely, Casia grew to hate reading and math as the year progressed. She was reading chapter books but still had to sit through early reading exercises. Because she was young for her grade, making the cut-off by just a couple of days, her motor skills were behind the other children's. She was still writing some of her letters and many of her numbers backwards. She struggled to write neatly. For these reasons, her teacher claimed, Casia was not ready to do more advanced math or reading work until her penmanship caught up with her reading level. We were disappointed with that response to our request for more challenging material, but we did not know enough to better advocate for our daughter. We also rationalized that it was just half-day Kindergarten and left plenty of time for enriching and educational activities after school.

Looking back, it should have been obvious to me that a traditional school was going to have trouble meeting Casia's academic needs.  Within the first week of 1st grade, Casia, in her boredom wrote all the answers to the simple arithmetic problems in base two, just to make it more interesting.  While other kids made patterns out of star, star, circle, star, star, circle, Casia made patterns out of prime numbers and squares (as in square roots). She became obsessed with Greek Mythology and even made a 'family tree' on our dining room wall of all the Titans, Olympians and other minor gods and heroes connecting the pictures she had drawn of them to one another with strings to show the relationships. I guess at this point, I should have known school was going to be a difficult fit, but still, we kept trying.  

We requested to have her tested through the school. Casia's test results were astounding. The psychologist said she has never seen another profile like Casia's and probably never will. Casia was given achievement testing that placed her at >99.9 percentile and an IQ test which placed her clearly in the profoundly gifted range. She hit the ceiling in six of the ten subtests and her lowest subtest score was two standard deviations above the average. During this process, I spent some time doing research on testing and gifted education so I could get a handle on what all this information meant. What I found is that there is no 'typical' gifted child. They are statistically rare and vary in their strengths, weaknesses, temperaments, and interests. What that meant to me as a parent of such a child is that there was no manual on how to proceed, and sadly, not a big support system.

I thought that with the test results in hand, we would have an easier time getting differentiation in Casia's curriculum. Unfortunately that has not been the case.  Gifted education isn't even an option in our district and the way their 'Enrichment' model is practiced, it holds little value for highly and profoundly gifted students. Over the last few years of advocating, the most we were able to get from the school was multi-grade math acceleration (a skip from 1st to 3rd and then a second skip from 4th to a combined 6th/7th grade program) and a whole grade skip from 2nd to 4th grade.  None of which was sufficient to challenge Casia and ultimately, none of it really dealt with the real issue at hand with regards her education.  That is, it's not the level of the material but rather the pace at which it is presented. She grew most frustrated in school because of the repetition, lack of depth and overall pace with which new material was presented, and this was across content areas.  

I have been through many frustrations in dealing with the school, teachers, administrators and feel as though I hit a brick wall. I've had to listen as the professional educators made statements like, "They all even out in third grade," and "Giving your daughter special instruction is elitist and unfair to the rest of the children," and "Don't worry about her academics; she's doing fine.  It's more important that she fits in socially."  I've been watching her intellectual abilities languish, her work ethic deteriorate and her overall attitude towards education turn from excitement on her first day of Kindergarten to apathy by the end of 4th grade.  It has been very disheartening and I have often felt like I am failing her.  

So this is what has brought me to this point.  I never intended to homeschool, but the more I have learned through my research, the more I feel that this may be the best way to meet Casia's educational needs.  I've got a plan in place, all the paperwork has been submitted to the district and I have been arranging social and extracaricular opportunities for her. So here we are.

It's official – we're homeschooling!