Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

We made a friend to watch over our house (and enforce the take-only-two-pieces-of-candy-from-this-bowl-rule) while we're out trick-or-treating:

From Fall Blog

From Fall Blog

Owen is very taken with our scarecrow, and has enjoyed much conversation with him today.

Here's some food for thought (ha, ha) about the whole poisoned candy phenomenon at Free Range Kids.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Still Letterboxing after All These... Months

We've been letterboxing for about a year now, and it's still as wonderful and exciting to follow the clues and find the hidden stamp out somewhere in the wide world as it ever was.

Here are some photos from a recent trip:

From Fall Blog

From Fall Blog

From Fall Blog

Letterboxing beats just going for a walk - at least, with our two boys - because it gives us a reason to be out in the woods. Instead of whining "when are we going to be done?"... Luke is up front, reading the clues, finding the landmarks, really into being part of a team.

Plus, we all tend to notice our surroundings a bit more with letterboxing; on our weekend excursion, we walked on a lovely old railway bed that runs parallel to a road we've been on dozens of times, never realizing this piece of history - complete with "sheep tunnels" for driving animals safely under the railway - was just into the woods.

From Fall Blog

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sun Catcher

We went on a fall trip with Grandma and Grandpa this weekend, meaning I went cold turkey - completely! - on my computer usage. I was kind of dreading not being plugged in for 4 whole days, but actually it was a nice break.

And now I'm back, but with a bit more perspective on the Internet. Meaning, I don't stay up until 1AM on the computer, get 5 hours' sleep, then spend the next day griping at my children and husband about every little thing... now, that only happens every other night.

We found a roll of contact paper a few weeks ago, and oh my has it been fun! We've made an Elect Obama sign, a Giant Die, and most recently:

From Fall Blog

Yes, a suncatcher. Possibly the easiest way to bring nature into your home; just go choose some fall-y type leaves, flowers, seedheads, etc., place them onto the sticky side of some clear contact paper, and then cover with the sticky side of another piece of clear contact paper. We tried sealing the yarn hanger into the contact paper, but it slid out, so we got out the stapler and used that instead.

And now, it really feels like fall - my favorite season. Ahhhhh.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I Can't Add Anything To This...

...So I'm just going to go straight to video.

Thanks to Jed Lewison for this incredible montage!

Monday, October 20, 2008

One Year In

It was November of last year that Luke left school, because the academic pressures of 2nd grade made him so stressed and sick.

Now that he learns in ways that are fun and interesting to him, Luke happily writes, uses mathematics skills, and reads voraciously. In fact, his writing has improved even though he doesn't spend nearly the same amount of time doing it as when he attended school. The skills he employs now are a means to an end, instead of being the activity's focus - as it was in school.

Here is a case in point. Last week, Luke recieved a watch as a gift, spent half an hour learning to use it (reading the pages of small print to find out how to set the alarm, use the stopwatch feature, change the time, etc.). Now, he uses it to remind him what time dinner is, when he can have screen time, even when to pick up the veggies at our CSA.

But when he was given the watch, the early childhood teacher in me saw, not so much the watch, but the plastic cube it came in; "hey, we could make that into a die," I thought - and today, that's just what we did.

From Fall Blog

I started the project, but Luke took it over, deciding how the die would look and making it so - it ended up with dots just like a regular die, but each side is a different color. He even helped come up with a non-competitive game we could play with the die, that would keep young Owen's interest. We each took turns rolling the die for 6 rounds, at the end of which we figured out who had rolled the most of which color; that way, we could all "win" a color without competing with the other players.

My masterstroke, though, was sitting away from the score card - Luke sat down near the card and happily kept track of all our rolls. Even better than the fine-motor work this entailed, he kept noticing patterns in our rolling, and made some interesting connections for himself that he may not have noticed were he not keeping score - "Hey Mom, that's the first red you've rolled."

So, one year in, we've got a boy who is learning the skills in order to learn something else, and not just for the sake of learning the skill.

For Luke, it's made all the difference.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Leave Everything In the Road

We donated to the Obama campaign last night after the debate.

Obama was appealing, calm, engaging, smart. He showed all the qualities a president needs; in the face of McCain's often petty accusations, endless smirking, and right-wing talking points, Obama showed himself to be the better choice by far.

During Schieffer's negativity question, when McCain said how 'categorically' proud he is of all the people at his rallies (even the ones who shout 'terrorist' and 'kill him'?...), Ben said, "I've lost all respect for McCain." Strong words coming from my man, who strives always to see both sides of an issue.

So, when the debate was done I read a post on DailyKos about how, if we don't give till it hurts (in biker parlance, "leaving everything in the road") and then Obama loses, it will be our fault because we didn't do everything in our power to help.

We didn't give much money - we can't - but we at least gave something. Between that and our sign, and whatever else we do in these next 3 weeks that's free but still important, like talking about Obama and why he should be president, or Luke and Owen becoming Kids for Obama, we want to be able to say we've put in our all.

We want to be able to say that we left everything in the road: that's how important this election is to our family.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

View from the Swingset

Fall days like this, there's really no better place to be:

From Fall Blog

Whatever game Owen's playing up there, he's doing it with, of all people, "Pwincess Leia."

From Fall Blog

Thanks to Grandma and Grandpa, Luke has a fancy new watch... with stopwatch capability! Obstacle courses are so much better, somehow, with the proper timekeeping capability...

From Fall Blog

Believe it or not, these pumpkins are part of this course, developed by Luke - you have to run 4 times around them before moving off to the Pool Noodle Jump.

From Fall Blog

Luke, rounding the final turn.

From Fall Blog

A beautiful afternoon like this, with the year's harvest all squared away, and the laundry drying on the line, after a great visit with family and the prospect of several more this fall and winter... feels pretty good!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Barack Obama for President

Time for The Stone Age Techie's coveted presidential endorsement - (drum roll, please...)

We endorse Barack Obama, for several reasons.

From Fall Blog

#1 His message for change starting with helping out the average person is the antithesis of conservative, trickle-down-style economics. Also, we much prefer his cheerful, can-do attitude about how to fix this country to the scare tactics so frequently pushed by the other side.

#2 He's a steady, well-reasoned person who can handle the fast-paced, mutitasking job as Leader of the Free World. His attitude about the U.S. in relation to the world is more 'let's work together' and less 'be afraid, be very afraid' - we like that.

From Fall Blog

#3 Obama will do more to move our country away from fossil fuels than the other guy. This is quite possibly the most important job our next president will tackle, and it's got to be done right. The energy issue encompasses our economy, national security, and foreign policy concerns, and we believe that Obama is the right person to solve this problem.

#4 The other side wants us to worry about "who Obama is," wants us to belive that he's "too risky," both thinly veiled racist jabs. We here at The Stone Age Techie feel more of an affinity with Obama than we could ever feel for the other guy's VP pick; we believe that she is far, far riskier than Barack Obama. That the other guy chose her at all shows a distinct lack of judgement on his part.

The bottom line is, Obama's ethnicity doesn't matter; he's calm in a crisis, fights for what he believes in, shares many of our beliefs here at the Stone Age Techie, and will move this country in the right direction.

From Fall Blog

He's the right man for the job.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Interview with an Unschooling Friend

Special treat today! Jena, an unschooling mom who blogs at Yarns of the Heart, has allowed me to interview her here at The Stone Age Techie. Jena's 3 children have always been homeschooled, and now the oldest has gone to college and the two younger ones are of high school age.

Here's Jena and her family, on a recent trip to New York City:

From Fall Blog

I was so pleased that Jena allowed me to ask so many questions, because I love the idea of unschooling but I've been afraid to "let" my boys go without work in at least some subjects, like in writing and math.

Her ideas and experiences give me hope.

Stone Age Techie: Have your children always been homeschooled? How did you develop your unschooling philosophy?

Jena: Yes, we've always homeschooled. The only exceptions have been when Peter went to a private school in 9th grade that only met on Mondays and Wednesdays. Missa is doing public school for the first time now in 9th grade (because she really wants to). Meg has only taken art and choir at our local high school.

How did I develop my unschooling philosophy? I went to college to be a teacher and I never once thought I'd be a homeschooler. Homeschoolers were some weird off-breed of humanity who were outside my world. But when my first child was a baby, we attended a church that had a homeschooling family and they seemed pretty normal (this was around 1990). So I was intrigued. I went to her house to see what homeschooling looked like. They had desks in the kitchen and school work taped to the walls. Interesting! That got me thinking. So I went to the library and got some education books. I thought back to my schooling and it dawned on me: the purpose of education is to make "good citizens." That's not a bad thing, but I translated that to mean "good followers." I'd rather my child be a leader, a free-thinker and even a reformer. I didn't want him sucked into a system determined to maintain the status quo (I write more about this in The Socialization Question). That was the first serious push in the direction of homeschooling.

A few months later I attended a homeschooling conference (he was not even 2 years old yet) and realized this homeschooling thing really was a possibility. To think I could create my own version of school at home with my favorite students! That's heaven, in my opinion.

So now, how was I going to "do school?" It's true that humans are born learners and parents are their first teachers, so I just slid into this unschooling philosophy. My kids loved learning, and so did I. Why did we have to ruin it all with schedules and someone else's curriculum plans? I decided early on that my goal in raising children would be to "maintain the joy of childhood and the joy of learning." If my kids were interested in something, I'd help them get the resources they needed to pursue that interest, and it just kept going year after year.

There were times I'd pull in the reigns more, question this philosophy and buy a canned curriculum. But it never lasted. It would be fine for awhile, but after it drained the fun out of life, we'd abandon it. I didn't think any curriculum was worth keeping if it taught my kids to hate learning.

I liked to look at check lists (I had the Core Knowledge Sequence and other books by E.D. Hirsch). I used those once in awhile to give me ideas of what we could be learning about, what books or videos I could check out, what field trips we could take, etc. But if my kids weren't interested, that was OK. There's always something else around the bend.

Stone Age Techie: What was it like in the early days, before homeschooling was even on the radar for much of the country? Did you homeschool before Google, while the only Internet available was really, really limited? If so, what was that like?

Jena: This question is my favorite. It never occurred to me that homeschooing before Google would be of interest, but as I think about it, I understand. Getting information is so much easier now than it was ten years ago. Maybe that's why I felt so isolated in my schooling style. But here's the answer: my kids read constantly, especially Peter, and they played dress-up and created worlds on their own. We bought and borrowed books, watched PBS, went interesting places, and just did what seemed fun. That's about it.

Stone Age Techie: (Here are my own insecurities coming out) How did your children learn "academics," especially writing and mathematics? I favor the unschooling philosophy, but I still feel reluctant to do math and writing this way. If you did unschool even these subjects, could you provide some examples of what worked for different learning styles? I'm assuming 3 kids, 3 learning styles...

Jena: Math is a natural in the world of games. Anything that requires keeping score is addition and subtraction practice. Battleship teaches x and y coordinates. Yahtzee gives multiplication practice. Denise Gaskins produced a few little booklets that I bought at a homeschooling meeting. One is Gotcha! Strategy Games for Math and Logic. They are basically ancient paper and pencil games that make you think. Family Math and other books like it were also fun resources to try out once in awhile.

I did have them memorize the multiplication tables, complete with rewards for progress. But I'm not too good at forcing things on my kids, so it wasn't a complete success. Now Peter is in college and even in the 99th percentile in math on the SAT and ACT, he can't remember basic elementary math facts. But that's true of most everyone and that's why people buy calculators.

When Peter got to 6th grade I bought a math CD. That was his first experience with formalized math. From that point on, I tried to require daily math in a workbook or computer program. When he went to the private school in 9th grade he had a wonderful teacher and a class of only three kids, so it was basically a tutoring situation. It was perfect for him. Looking back, I think I should have been more of a dictator in this subject. Find tutors, computer programs, workbooks, videos or Internet resources to keep moving forward in math. It's just too hard to cram all of elementary and highschool math for college entrance exams. For more of the actual resources we used, I've compiled most of them here.

Writing/spelling/grammar is much, much easier. Have them read examples of good writing (books) and give them a journal to express themselves anyway they want. When their imagination creates wonderful worlds, have them write it down for "posterity," not as an assignment. The computer program will alert them to spelling and grammar problems that they will naturally want to fix. Then a couple months before the ACT/SAT, teach them about the five paragraph essay and have them practice writing a few. Probably before they graduate highschool, teach them how to write a research paper. But even this is not necessary. Colleges expect to teach freshmen how to write the way that institution wants them to. Blogging, MySpace, IM, email, all are great ways to practice communicating. My kids are constantly asking me to check their spelling and grammar when they do those things--they don't want to look stupid.

The key to teaching writing? Imagination and Conventions. They can learn conventions by being exposed to them in print (by reading) and through games and workbooks (sparingly). Imagination is best developed with freedom to be themselves. My favorite, very fun book on writing conventions is Woe is I by Patricia T. O'Conner

Stone Age Techie: Have you ever had to defend homeschooling to school officials, relatives, or schooled friends? If so, how did you handle it?

Jena: Yes, but not to school officials. Since I have a teaching degree, my parents thought it was fine. They did worry about socialization, but they didn't hassle me. And over time, they saw what great kids they turned out to be and now are very glad I kept them out of school. I find it best not to argue my point but let my life and my results speak for themselves. If someone really wants to argue, I just drop it, smile and thank them for their concern. Often giving them my philosophy--maintain the joy of childhood and the joy of learning--was enough to get them to agree with me! And as far as socialization goes, I'd just mention all the lessons and activities they were in. If your kids are nearby, have them talk to this person and they'll see that homeschooled kids are often better socialized than public school kids because they aren't afraid to talk to adults in an intelligent way.

Stone Age Techie: We have found homeschooling works well for our whole family, in terms of fulfillment of the spirit (spending time out in our community, reading and learning, socializing...), taking care of our home, the day-to-day cooking, cleaning, and nuts-and-bolts parts of our lives. Have you found the same to be true?

Jena: Absolutely. Life and learning involves all of us together. That's the most fun of homeschooling and why I think I'm missing Peter so much, this his first month away at college.

Stone Age Techie: Is there anything you'd like to share that I haven't asked about, regarding homeschooling, parenting, or life in general?

Jena: Unschooling works best when you communicate a respect and trust of your child's innate abilities to learn and succeed. This is crucial. Listen to your child and take her seriously. See the unique contribution she has to make in the world. If her conclusions and life-direction doesn't match up with your ideal, that's ok. That's great, as a matter of fact! Your child needs the freedom to be who they are and to discover the joy of life.

[Here's Missa, Jena's youngest child, as Spidey:]

From Fall Blog

If they can get through high school with their love of learning intact, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. Someone who loves learning is unstoppable. When they face an obstacle, they will know how to tackle it, be that getting into college, preparing for a job, or starting a business. In fact, I just wrote a post about this, relating to Peter's experience in his Calculus class. School has to be more than learning facts. There is a world of facts out there, but what use are facts if you're sick of them or don't know how to find and apply them? A child raised to develop his or her passions will continue to pursue passions forever and be a happy, successful adult.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bean Bag Math

We are making the most of these wonderful, crisp fall days.

Thanks to The Siblings' Busy Book, we're enjoying the out-of-doors and doing some math work as well, with our variation on bean bags.

From Fall Blog

We agreed to work together cooperatively towards a really high score. Luke chose how many points we'd get for getting in the bin (40), for touching the outside of the bin (30), and for any bean bag landing within 1 foot (20), or 2 feet (10), of the bin.

From Fall Blog

We played 6 rounds, between the three of us scoring 350 points - pretty impressive, we thought!

The beauty of this game was, Luke kept thinking about different scoring combinations long after we finished playing. Because of the numbers he'd chosen, we were counting by tens, and thinking in terms of mathematics, all afternoon.

Finally, I love activities such as this one because there's a way for all of us to be involved; here's Owen "keeping score:"

From Fall Blog

Monday, October 6, 2008

Caller ID

After a supremely frustrating 10 minutes or so with my friendly telephone customer service guy, I managed to get our phone bill reduced by roughly half per month.

They sure didn't make it easy; you can't change your plan online to something less expensive (but don't you know, you can upgrade!), and so you must negotiate the quagmire of automated options before you even get to the guy who tells you he wants to "compare apples to apples" in a really, really patronizing voice while in fact comparing apples to oranges.

As in, "well ma'am, (I loathe getting ma'ammed) this plan, including all your favorite options, caller ID, taxes, etc. comes out to $41, and the one you're already on is $49, so it really doesn't make that much difference..."

Except that the $49 doesn't include $20 in taxes, making it an orange, not an apple!

Anyway, I felt pretty good after I got off the phone, I had successfully talked my way through the high-pressure sales pitches to end up with a plan that had only what we wanted, no voice mail, caller ID, call forwarding, or other sissy stuff. Totally bare bones. I didn't let him get to me!

An hour or so later, I realized what not having caller ID means: a return to the days when we don't instantly know who's calling! It's amazing how quickly we get used to something new, and then when it's stripped away - even at our own behest - how naked we feel. I thought, "how are we going to live without caller ID?"

We will, of course, persevere; and I still feel proud that I talked my way through the sales pitch. Fortunately, we have an old-fashioned answering machine. You know, the kind that sits next to the phone and just records callers' messages? From before voice mail?

Well, we're back to screening our calls, thanks to that machine!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Gwen Ifill

I'm trying really hard to stay sane in midst of this election campaign, but accusations like this make it tough.

I mean, Gwen Ifill! Incredibly accomplished journalist, smart, really together woman, and here's a columnist accusing her of being "so far in the tank for the Democratic presidential candidate, her oxygen delivery line is running out."

Fortunately, Ifill herself seems unruffled (she's probably seen far worse in her 31 years as a journalist): "The proof is in the pudding. They can watch the debate tomorrow night and make their own decisions about whether or not I've done my job."