Wednesday, September 12

Citizen Science Placeholder Post

We've done a lot of Citizen Science projects over the years, and we plan to keep it up. Having moved to Indiana, there will be some transition in what we do. For example, Monarch Watch was a huge favorite of ours (you can click the monarch tag in the sidebar to see what we've done). We had a ton of milkweed on our three acres-- much of it in our garden, where it wasn't counted as a weed (monarchs particularly favor the youngest plants). Every time we weeded or harvested, we found caterpillars, and we'd bring them in, raise, tag and release them.

Now we're in an urban yard with no milkweed. I'm planning to plant a stand of it, and ultimately some of our backyard will be given over to a wildflower seed mix put out by the Xerces Society. Perhaps we'll even become a certified habitat. But this summer, we saw precious few Monarchs. Some people net adult butterflies in the wild and tag them, and perhaps we'll also make a shift in that direction, but in my experience it can be hard to do with smaller kids, and I worry about hurting the butterflies much more than when we're gently removing them from the roof of a bug viewer.

Oh! And look at this thing I just found! People are tracking the development of Monarch-friendly plants to see what, if any, effect global warming is having on their growth and development.

So, maybe we don't have as much of a gap in our Monarch projects as we thought. Even so, one thing I'm thinking about doing next summer  is The Great Sunflower Project. This involves planting particularly bee-pleasing flowers, and then tracking bee activity. We need to make sure we won't invalidate the results by having a hive in the yard, as we're hoping to add one next spring, but most of the flowers on the list are ones we're planting anyway.

We're going to miss World Water Monitoring Day this year, but we are planning to participate in our own Wabash River Enhancement Corporation's Sampling Blitz at the end of the month. We'll also being doing various WREC recommended projects, including installing rain barrels, planting native plants and a rain garden, and creating wildlife habitats.

Also, look: Great Lakes Worm Watch. I haven't even thought about what we'd do with this yet, but as a Great Lakes state, we qualify for the study.

Other fun projects include:

http://www.learner.org/jnorth/

http://www.mlmp.org/

http://neoninc.org/budburst/

There are loads of projects out there that either don't apply to us at the moment, or are regional in nature. The best place to look is scistarter.com , but check with your local extension office, too. In upstate NY they had a pheasant raise-and-release program, among other things.

I highly recommend this sort of project. Citizen Science is hands-on, messy, genuinely scientific, community-minded, empowering for your kids, and a lot of fun!

Tuesday, August 28

Curriculum: Sixth Grade

Willow, Grade 6:

Math: Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra.

My plan is to finish this by the end of the 2012-2013 year. We'll see. It's Will's first foray into AoPS. (For those who are unfamiliar, AoPS is a math curriculum that was developed by and for competitors in math competitions. It seems to get at the underlying genius of math the way MCT does for language arts, hence our attraction to it.) Will liked Life of Fred's storytelling format, but both he and I felt that LoF was a fun supplement rather than a primary curriculum. Singapore was fine, too, but he began complaining that it looked juvenile. He didn't want to bring the books with him to my place of employment for fear someone would see. When I thought about it, I could see his point. There was only one thing on the AoPS placement test we hadn't covered yet at the end of Singapore 5B, and we filled that in with Khan Academy, which we'll still use as a supplement, along with Hands-On Equations. So, we're locked and loaded for Pre-Algebra.

Language Arts: Michael Clay Thompson's Language Arts, Voyage Level and Level 4.

I've probably mentioned before that we start each new level of MCTLA on the half-year. This is mostly because we first purchased it at a mid-year homeschooling convention, and I couldn't stand to wait until fall to start it, but it's nice to have one subject that's suddenly fresh mid-year, so it works out well. Will did a bit of Killgallon's Sentence Composing For Elementary School last year, and I purchased the middle school book for this year, as well. Will and Posy both love MCTLA, but Will's still a reluctant writer, and models are a useful prod for him.

Science: There are plenty of curricula out there that go light on (or even ignore, as Singapore seems to) Earth Science. But Will's been bringing up Earth Science careers since he was two. Nine years later, it doesn't seem like a stage. We loved using The Way Life Works for Biology last year, but I haven't been able to find a commensurate resource for Earth Science. I did find a text I'm pretty satisfied with, though: CK-12 Honors Earth Science For Middle School. CK-12 offers free Creative Commons-licensed textbooks, much as Khan Academy offers free online instruction. The text will be on Will's eReader (we own kindles), or he can read it on a computer app if he wants it in color. There are review questions and updated links for further exploration and study. For labs, we'll do a home water study, work on local watershed preservation, go on fossil hunts, learn to do rock and mineral identification tests, build a weather station, do some amateur astronomy, keep up with our Citizen Science projects...you get the idea.

We're also amped to be participating in First Lego League again this year. Of course, because of the move we've lost our previous teams...we miss them. But PB and I are signed up as coaches. Our table is built, our team is registered, we've got a bot, and our field set-up kit should be here within a week or so. This year's challenge was released today, and I could see fingers twitching as we watched the walk-through video. Competing will require about four hours weekly from now through the beginning of December, and I count those as part of our science instruction.

History: Last year, we used Oxford University Press's World in Ancient Times series (If you click through, do not have a heart attack. You can find them used more cheaply). We loved these books, which are written from the perspective of investigating archaeologists, and contain the many primary sources that are so crucial to Logic Stage history. This year we're continuing with The Medieval and Early Modern World, though we'll use various supplemental resources.

Latin: Still plugging along in Big Book of Lively Latin 2. We slowed down a good bit while we were selling the house.

Greek: Greek for Children, and then...wait for it...Galore Park's "Vaporware" Greek program appears to be truly coming out...on November 5th! I'm not just going by Amazon. Enterprising homeschoolers contacted the publisher directly for confirmation. If, by some chance, there's a glitch, we'll go with Athenaze, but I predict we'll move through it very slowly.

Literature: As usual, a mix of classics and contemporary, including a small amount of carry-over from last year. This may change a bit after Labor Day weekend, as PB is building bookshelves, which will enable me to employ my preferred method of running my finger along the spines and saying, "That one!" which I haven't been able to do since January.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Tolkien trans.)
One Thousand and One Arabian Nights (McCaughrean)
Nordic Gods and Heroes (Colum)
Beowulf (Heaney, done very much side-by-side with Mom)
Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli
*A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
*A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, by Mark Twain
*The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
Seedfolks, by Paul Fleischman 
My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George
Hey Kidz! Buy This Book, by Anne Elizabeth Moore (which he keeps reading in snippets)

Still packed somewhere are copies of the Mabinogion, a retelling of The Canterbury Tales, and various Shakespeare resources. I lean toward doing a mix of retellings and original readings of Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Henry V. We shall see.

The starred items are packaged by Michael Clay Thompson (with commentary) under the title The Time Travel Trilogy. The new Search Trilogy was just released, but we've read The Call of the Wild and Treasure Island, leaving only The Invisible Man, so I probably won't buy that set until it's Posy's turn.

Throw in Spelling Workout, handwriting and memory work, and there you have it. I'll be back with Posy's 4th grade later, but much of it will be familiar to long-time readers, so I thought I'd do this first.

Saturday, August 25

Fall Kickoff 2012

So, the blog is, at least on a limited basis, back.

There were good reasons for the long absence. Over the last several years, I've focused much more intently on my fiction writing than my blogging, and by last fall, all of my blogging time (and many additional hours) had become writing/editing/querying time. That's one reason. Another is that we hit a point that some long-term homeschoolers are familiar with...we liked all our curriculum and things were progressing smoothly. Remember Tolstoy? "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

For the last six months, however, things have been in a state of flux. I'd been writing about a family that put all its belongings in a storage pod and relocated to a (cursed) college town, and (creepily) we ended up putting all of our belongings in a storage pod and relocating to a (hopefully not cursed) college town. I haven't caught anyone looking in our windows, but at one point we did have a vagrant in our treehouse. True story.

If you were reading for the chickens, I imagine I'll be dead to you. The chickens stayed in New York. We are in Indiana. The fact that you're finding that ironic right now perfectly encapsulates the stereotype that infuriates upstaters everywhere. You can't judge a state by its biggest city.


See all that stuff "behind the rabbit"? That's the rest of New York. It's really really big.

So. We no longer live in the country. We live in a midwest college town, on a 1/4 acre lot that is now mostly grass and will soon be mostly food. More on that later.

We are still homeschooling. That's not very likely to change. If you're still bothering to check the blog after a year of no posts, do me a favor and drop me a comment! I'll post curriculum next, but you can see some of our favorite resources in the updated carousel above.

Monday, September 12

First UU of Rochester 's Amazing Viral Video

Check out this amazing video, posted just in time for Fall Ingathering. What a great idea from a dynamic congregation!

Tuesday, September 6

Curriculum 2011-2012

My apologies for the long dry spell. I'm writing more than ever...just not on the blog.

I thought I'd post our curriculum this year, though, for those who are interested in such things. Our Michael Clay Thompson resources are finished on the half-year, so when I list two levels, that means we're halfway done with one right now, and will be halfway done with the other by the end of June. We're doing Latin M/W/F, using Drew Campbell's I Speak Latin on Friday, and we do Greek on T/Th.

G/Kindergarten

Explode the Code
Miquon Orange and Red
Mindbenders: Warm Up
Mnemosyne

Posy/Third Grade

Explode the Code
Singapore 3A and 3B
Orbiting With Logic
Mnemosyne
Spelling Workout C
MCTLA Island/Town Levels
Greek for Children
Big Book of Lively Latin One
Shanleya's Quest
Various Life Science Resources/Projects
Story of the World 1

Will/Fifth Grade

Singapore 5A and 5B
Building Thinking Skills 1
The Snake and the Fox
Mnemosyne
Spelling Workout E
MCTLA Town/Voyage Levels
Greek for Children
Big Book of Lively Latin Two
Ellen McHenry's Botany
Botany in a Day
The Way Life Works
The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way
World in Ancient Times
Kingfisher Encyclopedia of World History

Both of the older kids have book baskets. Will's fall basket includes:

Blubber, by Judy Blume
The Coming of the Bear, by Lensey Namioka
India Authentic, One and Two
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
Gilgamesh the Hero, by Geraldine McCaughrean
Pyramid, by David Macaulay

He also reads two stories a week from Famous Men of Greece.

We're all doing a UU Bible literacy curriculum called Timeless Themes once a week.

You can see that Will's schedule in particular is heavy on the reading this year, so I didn't put many books in the basket. Also, we shortened our quarters so that we can take July/August off next summer. It was getting too hairy with sleep-away camp, local day camp classes, and swim lessons.

I'm also throwing in "math lab days" a few times a month, in which we ditch other seatwork to mess around with Hands-On Equations and Calculus for Kids.

Friday, April 29

On "Parents, Don't Dress Your Girls Like Tramps"

I was re-reading an article by LZ Granderson this morning entitled, "Parents, don't dress your girls like tramps". As I read it, I realized that it put a pretty fine point on a lesser-known reason to homeschool. It's in our top five:

We strongly oppose the commercialization and commodification of our kids' childhood.

So, when Melissa McEwan at Shakesville decries the article, arguing that "How girls dress would be moot if we didn't live in a culture that sexually objectified female people," I see her point. I really do. But I disagree that this nullifies Granderson's argument.

There is no shiny, post-sexualized reality in which little girls can wear underpants that say "Who needs credit cards?" without comparing their vaginas to ATMs. "Don't dress your daughters in a way that will make people look at them in a way no one should be looking at them in the first place," is all well and good, but there is a difference between sexualizing underpants that happen to be on a child, and sexualizing a child by emblazoning underpants with overtly sexual messages.

Then there are her other points, which I am admittedly paraphrasing:

1. Don't pretend to be criticizing "parents". You mean "mothers".

OK. Why does that invalidate his argument? Because Granderson's not a woman? Marketing companies will tell you that whoever does the grocery shopping in the relationship at the age of 30 is the person who chooses the brands for that household. If we're going to shut down the discussion so women don't feel singled out, we're not going to get very far. And I don't need a pass. Thanks.

2. If you only have a Wal-Mart, you have to buy sexualized girls' clothes.

Nope. Not true. I have never yet seen a Wal-Mart that didn't have plain old jeans and khakis, solid, floral and striped tee shirts, plain underpants and socks, reasonable bathing suits, and dresses with patterns rather than logos.

3. Stop blaming poor people for accepting the sexualized crap they are given.

This argument reeks of false sympathy. As someone who dresses her children in 99% thrifted, garage-saled, hand-me-down clothing, I can say with assurance that the most disadvantaged parent has no need to dress his or her child in objectionable clothing. If there is a pervasive culture of doing so in one's extended family, one might rely solely on thrifting and avoid the hand-me-downs, but it's certainly still possible to avoid messages like, "Juicy" or "If you take me shopping, I'll be your girlfriend."

Even if we couldn't easily find non-sexual clothing for our young girls, as Eric Schlosser has said of the fast food industry:

They are businessmen. They will sell free-range, organic, grass-fed hamburgers if you demand it. They will sell whatever sells at a profit.


Is Melissa McEwan arguing that poor people aren't capable of agitating for change or voting with the dollars they spend? That's a shitty argument. Wal-Mart knows who their customer base is. Substantial criticism would give rise to change.

And that, I think, brings us around to the real issue.

There are a myriad of corporations vying for our children's attention. They are shameless about their agenda, which is to inculcate cradle-to-grave loyalty to their brands. Over the course of her lifetime, your child is estimated to be worth approximately $100,000 dollars to each individual brand.

Just think about that for a minute.

Companies are perfectly happy to win your child over at the expense of that child's relationship with others and with self. They promote the illusion of substance, discussing brand perception and religion in the same sentence. And the most commercialized child in any given group carries corporate messages like a virus to children whose parents have set more reasonable limits.

It's a never-ending cycle. What brands are you wearing? Do you own the latest fashion in that brand's line? What are you playing with? Do you own enough of what you should be playing with? What's in your lunch? What gaming systems do you own? What rating of game are you allowed to play? Do you have the latest game as soon as it comes out? What have you seen on TV? What music do you listen to? What movies are you allowed to watch?

Of course, all of these commodities are far more expensive than the identical product sans label. You pay for cachet. You also pay for things nobody needs, and as we are beginning to realize, even recycling is not as green as it seems given our exorbitant rate of consumption.

Homeschooling has been an enormous boon for our family. There's not much of a push to conform among homeschoolers. We're generally one-income families, which requires us to economize. We run in mixed age and income groups, so that familiar figure of the-kid-with-everything who pushes new trends just doesn't exist. Shared interests tend to be viral; they transcend age groups and gender. As a group, our homeschooling friends watch little TV, and are more likely to watch as a family. We don't buy school clothes, so fashion tends to take a backseat to what lasts and what's comfortable. This makes it easy to protect our children from opportunistic marketers so they can develop their own interests. Most importantly of all, they can learn to discern the difference between an interest and a commodity.

Having seen what's possible, I am frustrated by these circular arguments in which people whine that parents must accept egregious marketing trends simply because they're filling store shelves. It's fallacious and lazy.

If you think I'm overstating the case, take a few minutes to read an ANA Magazine article from 2003, "Tween Marketing: It's No Longer Child's Play!" It's not even the tip of the iceberg.

Wednesday, April 27

Happy Birthday, Graeme!

Today, Graeme is five, the same age Will was when we moved to upstate New York. It seemed so old to me then; it seems so young to me now.

Five years ago, PB and I rushed to an emergency ultrasound in Columbus to find out if something had been missed that would explain the four liters of extra fluid my body was holding, which were preventing full labor. We ended up driving back down to our smaller local hospital a few hours later for a c-section. We were at risk for both cord prolapse and placental abruption. After two uncomplicated, unmedicated births, it was a scary conclusion to our childbearing. Thankfully, a beautiful, healthy baby was born, and he has been our comic relief, our larger than life hero, our Robin Goodfellow, ever since.

Graeme worked through a detailed itinerary today: he picked the ice cream to go with his cake at our local dairy (and told the dairyman it was his birthday), spent time at the park (and told the kids it was his birthday), picked up new playdough at Target (and told Dennis at the checkout it was his birthday), bought fondant at the craft store (and told the clerk it was his birthday)...you get the idea. He had pancakes for lunch and Chinese food for dinner. He made fondant squids and dolphins for the top of his cake while Will and Ro made fondant sushi and turnips (not kidding). Unfortunately, his original idea, a gigantic fondant statue of Abraham Lincoln rescuing a pirate from a T-Rex, proved overcomplicated. We rented Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and played Nickleback's "Hero" one jillion times (because it is a "Birthday-ish" song).

By the end of gift-opening, he was decked out in full pirate regalia, smeared with chocolate, and whooping aloud as he ran around the house, brandishing a moose.

That's my boy. Happy Birthday.