October 31, 2011

Magic, The Gathering

So Halloween is almost upon us and it is time to finish up the kids' costumes. This year the kids have decided to be Magic cards. In case you've never heard of it, Magic, The Gathering is a card game that Jacob and I used to play back in our college days. We saved the cards and recently, during a hurricane power outage, we brought them out to teach the kids; something to pass the long days stuck at home.

Well, the kids have really gotten into the game. And because this latest obsession happened to occur during the Halloween season, they decided to change their costume ideas from Diablo characters (a computer game) to magic cards. Casia is used to dressing as unfamiliar characters; for second grade she was Lady Macbeth and last year she was Medusa (fortunately, the Percy Jackson books have popularized Greek Mythology and so a few of her friends were familiar with the story.) I warned them that most people will have no idea what they are and they're okay with that. It will actually be fun to wander the neighborhood and learn which of neighbors used to play.

October 25, 2011

Falling Behind

It's not Casia I'm speaking of, it's me. I'm falling behind. I'm behind on almost every project I'm working on including homeschooling Casia. I don't even look at my monthly schedule any more, because I'm so far behind, it depresses me. I'm so far behind, I don't have time to look up synonyms in the thesaurus to replace all the behinds I've just typed. Off the top of my head, I can think of quite a few other behinds, but they just don't have the right meaning. So here I sit, on my behind, getting further behind talking about behinds.

Now that I've vented, I need to give myself a pep-talk. So here it goes... On the flip side, I still feel like Casia is learning a lot. She's had a great attitude this past month and has been very proactive on her independent projects. Socially she is doing marvelously. I think she's is getting a well balanced education. We managed to get in math and language arts every day and science, history, Spanish and computer science a few times each week. I just wish I had about five more hours in the day; two with Casia and three more just for myself. Or maybe I just wish I had enough energy to make use of the last three hours of my day. Either way, I've been feeling more and more tired and my to-do list is growing; not shrinking. Damn! My pep-talk just turned negative. Not a good sign. I'm trying to decide if I need a vacation or need to work harder to catch up. It's a tough call. 

October 24, 2011

From Salem, MA to Stanley Milgram

As part of her studies on Colonial American History, Casia has been learning about the early settlements. Our first stop was Roanoke. She read a couple of books on the lost colony and then watched a movie. Casia was intrigued by the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the colony with the cryptic clues left behind.

Next, Casia learned all about the first permanent English settlement of Jamestown. We spent a couple of weeks on this unit and then followed it up with a trip to the historic Jamestown Settlement. We then moved on to Williamsburg. A benefit to living near Williamsburg is that the library is packed with books on the historic town. There was no shortage of reading material available. I couldn't find a movie on this topic, but we did spend a day in Historical Williamsburg and had a marvelous time.

We then moved further North and started a unit on the Plymouth Colony. Again, she read several books and we followed it up with, you guessed it, a movie. Combining history with literature, we also read Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter together, and Casia wrote an essay on the symbolism in the novel, and then, naturally, we watched the movie. I opted for the less steamy, but slower version staring Meg Foster. Having seen the R-rated Demi Moore version, I felt it was not appropriate for Casia. Honestly, I'm not a fan of either versions and think this could be made into a much better movie.

We are currently finishing up our unit on the Salem Witch Trials. I found this excellent website from the  University of Missouri at Kansas City Law School with links to transcripts of the original court records including arrest warrants and examinations. It's a treasure trove of primary sources on this dramatic period of our history. We've also read Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the movie from Netflix.

As Casia and I compared the historical aspects of the Salem witch trials with the fictional versions, we enjoyed speculating on the true causes of the panic and hysteria that swept through the town. We talked about the religious climate of that era, political issues going on in the town and possible personal motives and influences on the young accusers. We talked about why it is so important to always think for yourself, question authority and act always as your conscience dictates. Then we started talking about the repercusions of people just following the crowd or doing things because their leaders told them they must. Our conversation then led to Nazis Germany. We haven't studied this period specifically but Casia is familiar with Holocaust having read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

I was reminded of a study I once read, and so I looked it up to discuss it with Casia. It was Stanley Milgram's Experiment, in which he studied individuals' responses to being asked to inflict pain on another person. The disturbing results showed that the people in his study readily complied with such a request. It was a very stimulating conversation and while I ruminated on how we got onto the topic of Stanley Milgram whilst discussing Salem, MA, I was glad to have had the flexibility in our schedule to allow for such interesting tangents. 

Books and Movie Resources:


  • Lady Maragaret's Ghost by Elizabeth McDavid Jones
  • Traitor in WIlliamsburg by Elizabeth McDavid Jones
  • Williamsburg: Cradle of the Revolution by Ron Goor
  • Colonial Williamsburg by William Coleman
  • Williamsburg by Judy Alter
  • Williamsburg: Cornerstone of Freedom by Zachary Kent


  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Mayflower Compact by Judith Llyod Yero
  • Don't Know Much About the Pilgrims by Kenneth Davis
  • The Daily Life in the Pilgrim Colony by Paul Erikson
  • A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple by Kathryn Lasky
  • You Wouldn't Want to Sail on the Mayflower by William Cook
  • "Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower"
  • "The Salem Witch Trials" by the University of Missouri at Kansas City
  • "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller
  • The Salem Witch Trials by Judith Bloom Fradin
  • History Channel's "The Salem Witch Trials"
  • I Walk in Dread by Lisa Rowe Fraustino

October 18, 2011


One of the added perks to homeschooling is the ability to take a vacation whenever it suits you. I love that flexibility. I just wish I had it. That's the downside to homeschooling one child and sending the other off to public school every morning. I'm still tied to the school calendar. I still have to get up at 6am to ensure Garrett makes it to the bus stop by 7:15am.  

This past week, I made the trip up to my home town in Upstate NY to visit my newborn baby niece. I had to make the decision whether to pull Garrett out of school or leave him home with Jacob, who had to stay behind and work. I decided to pull him out. He didn't want to miss meeting his cousin, he loves getting a day off of school and he didn't want to be left behind; all excellent reasons in my mind.

I felt mildly guilty about pulling him out of class for personal, not medical reasons, especially since I know I will be doing it again at Thanksgiving and again at Christmas. I know it's disruptive to the class having kids out unnecessarily. But family always plays a dominant role in my life and I think that making the effort to put family first, even at the inconvenience of our day-to-day lives, is an important value I want to instill in my kids.

So on this ten-hour long car ride, I had plenty of time to ponder. I was planning field trips that I want to take Casia on this year in and around our state. Many of them I think Garrett would enjoy and really get a lot out of, yet sadly, I am going to have to leave him behind. It is at these moments that I really wish I were homeschooling both children. I don't feel compelled to pull Garrett out of school because of a poor academic fit, as I did Casia, but I am beginning to love the idea of homeschooling as a way of life, not just a temporary fix for Casia's education. After one year of homeschooling, I see the benefits beyond the basic scholastic skills. I wish I'd pulled Casia out sooner. And I start to wonder if maybe it wouldn't be better, for Garrett, for me and for the family as a whole, if we pulled him out to homeschool as well. It's just a seed of an idea at this point, but it's starting to grow. We'll see what happens over the course of the year.

October 11, 2011

Lesson Plans

There are probably as many ways to homeschool as there are homeschoolers. I know some homeschooling parents that buy all their curriculum. I completely understand the appeal to buying a ready-made curriculum. All the work is already done as far as writing the lesson plans, assignments, tests, etc. and I'm sure they stay far more organized than I ever am. On the flip side, it's very expensive and if you change your mind about what you want to cover or if you move through it faster than expected, you've got the added expense of buying more.

There are online instructional resources that you can buy, and for math, we have chosen to go this route. We use ALEKS, among other teaching resources, and have had some success with with it. There's a monthly fee or yearly if you want to commit to it that long (they offer a free trial), and it includes practice problems, instruction and tests as well as continual progress reports. It moves at the child's pace and the cost doesn't change even if you go faster through the material. The downside is that Casia does more math on the computer than with paper and pencil and sometimes this leads to her doing math in her head when she should be writing it down to work it out. It also means she picks up sloppy habits in her notation that makes it tough for others to understand her steps. So we don't rely entirely on ALEKS. We've used other books and lesson plans that Jacob or I have developed depending on the topic she is working on in ALEKS. I do like how it retests her understanding of previously covered topics, just to make sure she doesn't have any gaps and it lets us know, based on what she has already mastered, what she is ready to tackle next. I don't think it stands alone well, but we've been using it as the basis of her math instruction off and on since Kindergarten (before she was given accommodations in school).

For every other subject I teach Casia, I develop my own curriculum and lesson plans. Mostly, I like doing it this way. But it is very, very time consuming. I can spend up to five or more hours a week planning lessons for the upcoming week. I use the internet and library as my primary resources for ideas and materials. I have a text book that forms the backbone of the science curriculum, but I am always supplementing it with lab experiments, videos, handouts, worksheets or other reading. In writing, I usually try to incorporate an assignment that corresponds to another subject area like history or science. 

In an effort to cut down on the amount of time that I spend surfing the web for ideas and printouts, I signed up for a free trial of Lesson Planet. There are so many sites out there for lesson plans, but this one actually gave me a free trial (I don't want to plop down the monthly or annual fee without knowing what I'm getting). It's $40 a year and it allows you to search based on grade level(s), type of activity, whether it's a lesson plan or work sheet you are looking for, and  of course, subject. 

On day one of my free 10-day trial, I was so excited, I thought a couple of clicks later and I'd have all the lessons for the week done. It wasn't that simple. For science that week, when it selected my criteria it came back with 50+ links. I had the chapter in the textbook that explained the topic, but I wanted a diagram or a  couple of worksheets that Casia would have to answer using her textbook. And most importantly, I didn't want to have to write any of it myself (which is what I usually do). I did end up finding what I was looking for, but it still took more than an hour. And that was just one subject. My trial period for Lesson Planet ran out a few weeks ago and mostly due to poor planning on my part, I didn't make the most of my free trial, so I ended up signing up for one year to really get a feel for it. The verdicts not out yet on whether I'll get my $40 out of it.

October 2, 2011

History Comes Alive

Casia and I took an amazing field trip to Colonial Williamsburg yesterday. Shortly after our arrival, Casia decided she wanted a colonial dress as an early birthday present. It looked so cute on her, I couldn't resist. 

For twelve hours we visited historic buildings, took tours, listened to the expert docents, and enjoyed the ambiance of the village. Then we ended the day with an excellent show called Cry Witch. It was a mock witch trial where we got to participate by deciding the innocence or guilt of the accused. Casia was thrilled when we got selected to sit as two of the twelve member council. We sat up with the judge and got the best seats in the house for this well acted performance.

We got caught in a torrential rain on our long walk back to the car. Soaked and tired, Casia proclaimed this outing as the best field trip ever! 

Casia in the Garden at the Governor's Palace.

Casia in the window seat of the Everard house.
Kitchen of the Peyton Randolf house.

Slave quarters of the Peyton Randolf house.
Parlor of the Peyton Randolf house.
Casia in front of the St. George  Tucker House.
Upstairs bedroom in the Everard house.
Slave quarters in the Everard house.

Standing outside the Governor's Palace.
Casia in the garden of the Governor's Palace.
Casia by the spinning wheel.
Casia trying to look sad as she stands in prison.

My favorite picture  from our trip:
Casia peering into a locked out building.