About Me

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Michigan, United States
a registered yoga teacher, and a Thai/Yoga Bodywork practitioner.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Tribe of four

kids dancing at part

My daughter, M, has just a few good friends. One girl is a full three years younger, but they play as equals. They giggle like mad when they're together. They are in the same dance class and always opt for each other as partner when a dance move requires two bodies.

This friend is not homeschooling, but she is part of a community that sets her apart, a culture that's in the minority. She, her family and her tight community strive to preserve this identity. They don't just pay homage to it like the eyedropper-full Irish who go green on St. Pat's Day or my husband's increasingly watered-down Italian family who love garlic and all, but are otherwise integrated.

This group has a language, a traditional dress, customary music, etc. They hold education classes to continue teaching the young ones. It has been my only glimpse into what an Old World neighborhood would have been like when America was less homogenized.

The friend's name has a pronunciation that everyone "out here" turns into something else. Imagine the name "Mar-TI-nez" (Martinez) pronounced (oh, shudder) Martin-EZ. This girl rolls with it, though. She's not expecting everyone to get it.

My M. uses the proper pronunciation. I learned from the mother how to say the name. That's how M. learned it.

"My dance class makes fun of me for saying (friend's) name that way," M. says. "Even the teacher does."
(She repeats their phrasing, which exaggerates the vowel change).

There's a lesson in this. Give me a second...

"Do you want to say it like everyone else, or do you want to say it the way you know is right?"

"The right way."

"Okay. This is a good thing, you know." (Quizzical eyebrows from M.) "This is a chance for you to do what you know is right even though everyone else, including the person in charge, is doing it another way."

I let her think on that and comb my mind for possible complications...Ah!

"Did (your friend) ask you to say her name like everyone else?"
"So what would you rather do?"
"Say her name the right way."

I can't claim a single heritage. This is a household of European mutts. However, in homeschooling, there's a definite clan, a way-we-do-things that is not diluted by spending most of our days apart. It's a small thing, but I am pleased M. would rather stand out and get a little ribbing than relent and go along with the class. She'll get support from her tribe (us) and experience facing off against a crowd that wants--in a gentle, teasing way-- conformity.

I hope this builds resistance for future times when the teasing is less gentle and the crowd more imposing than a gaggle of girls in tights.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

My bi-polar homeschool


Some days...some weeks...the larger share of some months, I have such doubts about continuing to homeschool. I want to stop feeling the oscillations of delight and failure, like this teeter-toter on which I am tied by choosing this life.

It's tiring, this ride.

On the high side, there's spontaneous learning. We drove home from my mom's in a merest suggestion of snow. The remaining week called for above freezing temps. The Dad and  I recall Novembers full of snow and Decembers were definitely snowier than we've seen recently. My son goes from content to irate when I comment on "global warming." He gets irrational.
"We are never sledding AGAIN!" he bleats. Winter is ruined. It will never recover.

The next day --the very next day-- I am leafing through National Geographic for photographs to use in our Roman mosaics. There's an article about one family and their attempt to make a difference in energy use.  I read most of this aloud as the kids snip and sort papers.

We learn the greatest use of energy is heating one's home. We learn that running a push mower for an hour spews out as much exhaust as running eleven cars; running a riding mower for an hour is equal to running thirty-four (34!) cars.

"Imagine them all lined up on that road," I say, pointing out the window. "Thirty four cars running an hour just for the neighbor to mow his and our lawn."

There's no snow tantrum today. We talk about a concern with facts and guidance. I didn't decide to preach about energy use; it came up as part of life. These are my favorite moments. These kids are going to be fine in life. I just know it.

Then there's the low side, when I become entrenched in "learning" with a capital "L" -- for the sake of keeping up, seeming well-rounded, meeting Core Standards and all that rot. Our schedule gets skewed because we're staying up too late. We don't check off all the items on my list-o-subjects. It's evening, dark already, and I am back home and available to round them up and direct Learning again.

They're not having it.

I call to them. No one answers.
I walk down the hall and confront them. "Let's do history."
Groans and grimaces.

It comes down to either forcing them to pay homage to me for the sake of pleasing my schedule/staying on track/being educated enough, or letting it go for another day. I am more inclined to let it go, and I hate myself for it.

I watch The Great Courses Lectures on my own, taking notes. The girl curls up next to me with Calvin and Hobbes. The boy  is clicking through his YouTube subscriptions. I am failing them; I just know it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Autumn wrap up pics

You mean the year's almost gone? (Really: it was a Starbucks Cake-Pop thing, gone in two bites)
The kit was purchased, but the decorating was all by hand.

So pleased!
Early morning creation:
our outdoor cat, May
(pencil and marker)

Early November excursion to the old campus for pizza and football. 
Every Friday night: Chinese painting class.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Halloween '12

Halloween "science" was making cat and spider deviled eggs.

All design work done by the girl; mom did the utilitarian boiling/peeling/mashing.

 If you know who this is, you're a Pokemon aficionado.  It's "Red" holding a hand-painted Pokeball. The hat and shirt came from the resale store, doctored up with white and red acrylic paint.

 She didn't want to be a "cutsie" bat. She wanted to look like a REAL bat. Minus the pastel sneakers, it's as close as we could get.

The fangs were not comfortable for trick or treating, but they make for a good photo.

The girl's stuffed bats dining on shot glasses of "blood." (Ketchup in water)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

If you're not failing, there's something wrong

I read Teaching Minds a few weeks ago. Here's how it altered my thinking:

Forcing learning is impossible.We can go through the motions, but if you are teaching something separate from a genuine goal, it's a mimicry of learning.
"It is not possible to teach/train students to do things that are not in line with who they are as people...much of what we try to teach in school and train for in companies is an attempt to alter behavior."

Further, we learn processes, not subjects. We learn how to evaluate, describe, plan, negotiate. Separating history from science from psychology misrepresents the layers within a situation or problem.

Teachers--those bastions of society-- are flawed fact delivery services. We need to rebuild with Mentors: those who encourage and ask questions that are not easily answered (like True/False). Mentors "get students to understand the world better and enhance their capabilities. Neither happens through a teacher telling a student anything."

"If a child grows up in a world where questions are expected and long-held beliefs can be abandoned because of new evidence, he will seek [challenging, new] interactions. But growing up with adults as knowing everything and no one's beliefs are questioned will = mindless, dull behavior" (p. 103).

Rather than tell someone what to do, ask,
 "What do you think happened?"
"What could you do differently?"
My favorite slam against bureaucracy is when the author, Roger Schank, distills a page full of chewy, abstract education goals into bubbly swallow:
An effective education means learning:  1. How to be a critic 2. How to respect some and copy others 3. How to know where you fit 4. How to take action 5. How to think (develop questions, seek answers, don't assume the answers come from where you expect).

Finally -- failure. There must be lots of failure.  Failure is anathema in schools, which is pitiful. The way to change behavior--to learn-- is to find what is not working. "Intelligent people respond, when they are confused or when a long-held belief is challenged, with a request for evidence...allowing for the possibility that they are wrong and wanting to know more."


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Rainbow Cake Unschooling

Monday's lesson : layered cake

What lessons come with making cake?

  • Crack and separate eggs.
  • Divvy cake batter between three pans. You can't eyeball it; you must use a measuring cup and --like siblings require--keep it even.
  • Decide to make our own food coloring or go with the artificial (issues of food safety vs appearance and taste).
  • Level a cake layer after it comes out all puffed on top.
  • Mix butter-cream frosting from a recipe.
  • Experiment with frosting tips and find that butter-cream goes soft quickly. It needs to be chilled to make textured designs.
  • Improvise frosting flavoring when the vanilla is used up for the first batch. (Almond flavored the 2nd batch)
  • Experience that cake, delicious as it is, leaves one with a sugar hangover.

Monday, September 17, 2012

This American Life & testing

Listening to "This American Life" on the radio last Saturday. Coincidentally it's about back to school and, specifically, TESTING.


The point that made me sit in my car long after I needed to was how what predicts success later in life is not high school. It was found that kids who drop out and take the GRE GED perform poorly at other tasks later in life. The key is not the content of high school, though.

It is learning to stick with something. The kids who stayed in school did not gain advantage from the classroom content. They were kids more likely to stay through until the end of something.

What gave kids an advantage through life was having support from a trusted adult and a demonstration of "values" or "character traits."

It's being the mother duck to the ducklings: here's how we do this, how we do that.

Teachers don't get that latitude. Parents have the edge at raising successful people--as long as they know their power.

Please give a listen. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Testy about testing

I didn't collect data, but if I had to guess at the second most asked question about home schooling?


Do you test them?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"It is my favorite and my best"

Anime Girl Friends
 "It is my favorite and my best" 
~ Lola, 
of "Charlie and Lola." British cartoon.

At the store, we encountered one of my daughter's best school friends. She rushed up to us, looking three inches taller than when we saw her last year and wearing shorter hair and glasses. She beamed at M.

"Are you coming back to school?" she asked.
"Will you ever come back?"
"I wouldn't count on it," M. said, smiling tenderly. She likes her friend, and she did not want to let her down--but there you go.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hammer time

Smashing rocks--a trick she learned from her best friend. Note: safety glasses worn behind that hair.

Recruited for removing carpet/tack strips from  the last bedroom. He *loved* it, working three hours that day to finish the room. I should have recruited him at the beginning of this project!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

"Yes" to summer--finally

I say "yes" quite often. Will you cover this shift? Yes. Would you do this for me? Yes. Would you create this  class? Yes. Would you join us for this? Yes.

Hence -- I have had a summer-packed when the plan was for a summer-unpacked. Yesterday--Friday--was A Day When Nothing Else Had to Happen. No work; no class; no meeting; no play date.We went to the beach.

At first, Nate didn't want to go (shocking).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Greeks persist

It's a struggle for me to let my kids learn in a freewheeling fashion; how many hours of watching Pokemon on YouTube can one permit?

It's a struggle for them to learn some of the things I deem appropriate; how many handwriting practice sheets must one do before the handwriting is good enough?

When our subject interests merge? It's glorious family fun.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Attention-deficit curriculum

I woke up early this morning, worrying.

It had been an unusually full day. I was in and out of my car eight times. It would have been ten, but my husband ran one errand for me, literally getting out of my car and into his.

So much running leaves me revved up.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Science + Art = Fun

Just because it's pretty...

We have not done physics or chemistry formally, but we have discussed the origins of life. We have picture books about the Big Bang, and coincidentally, M. asked "What came before the Big Bang?" just a few weeks ago. 

Now the diligent people at CERN have an explanation. Sort of. They explain and it goes over my head (mostly). Here's my favorite kind of lecture format--the "drawn as it is explained" style:

Higgs Boson explained

Scroll to the 2nd video screen. The first minute+ is an introduction with people in a cafeteria and some random talking. Then it gets to the drawings and graspable analogies for what the Higgs Boson experiment means.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Summer novelties

"Playing" an Atari controller candy box while displaying stuffed sea life

After a year of the same ole routines, June has been full of novelties.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A reader asks: how did I get here from there?

Why was I a reader?

Did the books we were made to read in school inspire me?

I don't recall any "reading circle" stories from elementary school. I remember visiting the tiny Nottawa library with Mom and bringing home books. I remember reading to myself during "silent reading time" in class (lots of horse stories and Little House books), and I remember the teacher reading to us (Superfudge, most vividly).

However, the forced, generic reading-for-comprehension didn't stick in my long term memory. That doesn't mean it was useless, I suppose. It certainly didn't make an impression, though.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I'll scramble; they're over-easy

Since we start summer in early May, the kids have floated along while I have been scrambling.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The practical, the whimsical

"Rainbow" soup

The week began rather gray and cool, so it called for a practical lesson in soup making. Also, I have been in a scramble: pulling up carpet, preparing to paint the kitchen (deciding what color!?), putting in a garden, doing more Thai bodywork sessions than usual--we needed something healthful and easy to heat in the fridge for the week. This calls for Rainbow Soup. I coerced Nate into helping with it. (Madelyn needs only be asked to cook and she's ready.)

Friday, May 4, 2012

First Lesson of Summer

Pulling pesky carpet staples

Our summer term begins in May. Our first lesson is the Real World chore of pulling up carpet: prying up nail-embedded strips, pulling up pokey staples, picking at crusty chunks of foam, and vacuuming a sandbox worth of sand. I used three vacuum bags--the dirt is that dense.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The math we'll need; the math we'll love

The assumption that we all need to take higher math is wrong. For those who love math, go ahead and wallow in the numbers! For most of us, though, arithmetic, thinking logically and reasoning is what we need most.

Based on math teachers' lectures on TED talks, taking Calculus and Trigonometry is practical for professions who put it to use--like engineers and technicians. The rest of us will remember just enough to pass the class or get through the SAT.

To keep math relevant and interesting, Nate and I are working through this book:

No assignments required

Barbie's homemade bed
We do a blend of home-school (math, history, typing) and "unschool"--wherein the kids have time to freely play and create.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Sugar Rush

We did our eggs and chocolate bunnies a few weeks ago, on the first day of spring. (Creation Potpourri). 

However, an article in Family Fun magazine was too easy to resist, and it gave us something novel to do on the weekend when so many are hosting dinner, dressing up, and attending church. We dress down and eat cheap, disgusting sugary snacks. Behold...Rice Krispie Treats a la Easter

The Ingredients  (the butternut squash is just observing, not participating).    

The intent--and the recipe--called for molding the cereal goo into plastic eggs, leaving a hollow on the inside, cooling them, and putting a few M&M's in the center before sticking the halves together.

One shot at pushing the resilient cereal/mallow cement into a flimsy plastic shell made us reconsider. Our fingers were oiled to the tips, but they kept getting stuck as we tried to make the mixture stay in the mold.

"We can just spread this into a cake pan, cut it up, and decorate," I hinted.

"Okay," said kid baker, eager to break into the unnaturally blue hued, air-driven frosting.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Two Readers

I spent Wednesday morning perusing a recently-found and favorite blog: Wonderfarm. The author says, 

“If we want our kids to love reading and writing in the future, we have to help them love reading and writing today.”


Monday, March 26, 2012


I read several homeschooling blogs. The writers are my electronic friends (we have never met). Still--they are my mentors. They introduce me to things and give me the courage to try them. I put these friends in the right margin (there----->). Something about their approach or their resources suits me, and it is reassuring to not cut this that I don't have to break trail alone.

Another silent partner in homeschooling is interlibrary loan.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Creation Potpourri

She's looks like a Rastafarian, but really she's wearing her Scylla creation.

We read the Odyssey chapter about Scylla and Charybdis (a six-headed monster who eats men and a whirlpool monster who eats ships).

She tied her scarves together to make six necks/head. Then she wore it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tell me about...

I found a blog last week that upended my approach to teaching writing and grammar.

The creator had left a comment on another blog I read, so I clicked her name to see what else she had to say. I have woke up eager for "my" computer time every morning to continue reading:

"Wonderfarm" a.k.a. http://patriciazaballos.com/
If you go to her page, click "blog" at the top.

On the sidebar is The Dictation Project. To summarize, all kids are storytellers and writers, but the ability to go from speaking it to writing it is gradual. Also, some people's minds --not just kids' minds-- lock up at a blank page. They can think it; they can speak it, but writing it takes so much time and concentration that the stream of thought dwindles to a trickle. Then it stops.

If you want to experience what *that* feels like --being hamstrung by the page-- try her five minute experiment.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Evolution Demonstrated

Here is a clip about how evolution works. It's simple enough that any child with imagination and working eyesight can understand.

It works for us over-thinking adults, too:


Monday, March 5, 2012

Will this be on a test?

I don't test the kids. I might ask a question to see what they picked up after a reading or a video, but there's nothing graded beyond marking a math problem so we can go back and redo it.

Often, something we are studying is referenced--TV shows, articles, etcetera-- and I point it out. For instance, the publisher of the book cited below is "Perseus Publishing" and they know the story of Perseus. At least, they knew it a few weeks ago.

So in the realm of what educators consider testing, I don't test them. The only familial resistance to homeschooling has been the question: how do you know if they've learned anything if you don't test them?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mangled Greek

Approaching a word I don't know how to pronounce, I pull out an arsenal:

I took French and Spanish in high school. In college, I took two years of Italian. I did ten months of yoga training and had to learn the poses by their traditional names, so there's a smattering of Sanskrit.

The kids and I dabbled in Mandarin Chinese last semester (all I remember is the first word we learned).

All this simmers on a base of an American-Midwest accent.  I can't even sound charming or endearing like the British or American Southerners do. They say it their own way. I mispronounce it. My consonants are hard and my vowels are inconsistent. I sound like a square, even when I know how to say the word.

We're studying Ancient Greece now, and there's a nagging sense that I'm getting a lot of words wrong. We  read the Illiad, watched Jim Henson's Greek Storyteller series (ah, that's how to pronounce Eurydice), and have just begun reading the Odyssey.

Two chapters in and the stumbling has begun. Take Nausicaa. Extend the "a" sound a bit at the end, right? The king Alcinous would sound similar to "all sinuous." Then there's Euryalus. It's rare to get stopped up reading aloud, but this one put me into a stutter. I sounded like a car refusing to start:

your uh
your uh
your uh...

There's an antidote to freewheeling utterances:


Type in a word--or a name!--and it says it for you.

It's "naw-SICK-ee-uh" not "NAWS-ick-uuuh." (Nausicaa). It's "ahl-SIN-ohs" not "all-SIN-OO-US" (Alcinous). Euryalus isn't listed. I will have to do my best.

Perhaps affecting a British accent will help.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Assumptions challenged: Darwin and the homeschool debate

February 12th was Charles Darwin's birthday. Someone on Facebook posted it, so I announced it to the household.

"Who's Charles Darwin?" Madelyn asked.

Rob and I took turns trying to convey an accurate yet simple version of his theory and its impact. She looked back and forth between us, curiosity fading into confusion. I jumped into a homeschooling parent's version of "The Batmobile" -- Google and interlibrary loan.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

One for The Man on Valentine's Day

This is the man who supports us so I can homeschool and work part-time.

Our personalities captured in a pose.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

These lambs aren't silent; also, messes we have made

On the midway point of winter we visited some lambs. This day, called Groundhog's Day (now) was called "Imbolc," meaning "ewe's milk" because the lambs are born around February 2nd. We are fortunate to have friends who are homesteading: raising cows, sheep, a pig or two, several chickens, and growing food and grain to feed the lot. They use draft horses to do field work; they installed a wood-burning cook stove. They are like the Amish but without the religious-, techological-, and cultural isolation.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The New "Book"

I'm loosening my prejudice against "the screen." It began with this article:

The Many Benefits, for Kids, of Playing Video Games 

It's a three-pager, so I'll skip to the parts the grabbed my attention:

Friday, January 13, 2012

Of Mice and (Ancient Greek) Men

We have begun Ancient Greece. I have learned (re-learned?) that the city-states were basically different "countries" but because they all spoke Greek and had similar customs, we group them together as one nation.

We read Wise Guy (Socrates) and What's Your Angle, Pythagoras? A Math Adventure.  

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