Thursday, April 29, 2010

Banner Parade

I've been looking at past banners, and thought I would share some of my favorites today. They bring back memories of what was going on in our lives at the time, and make a photo diary of what we've been up to for the last two-plus years. I hope you enjoy them!

Owen, at three, admiring some of our morning glories one August.

A butterfly sipping nectar on our very first homeschool field trip, to a nature sanctuary nearby.

Flowers in the amazing rose garden in Portland, Oregon. Gosh, we loved that place!

A snowman the boys built with their Uncle Dave; if memory serves, they named the snowman Jeffrey, for no apparent reason.

Fences at Gettysburg. What an amazing, amazing place.

The light prism at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Autumn leaves, happily glowing to themselves as we walked by letterboxing.

At the ocean last summer.

I was so proud of this bread, basically a giant chocolate croissant. Yummmmm.

These little guys were hanging out with me in the warm autumn sunshine on a bench at Old Sturbridge Village.

And finally, our laundry on the line - a favorite, although I can't tell you why.

Maybe it just represents our crazy, fun, good old life.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Evolution of Writing

Owen is writing, and it is soooo cute.

But it's more than just cute. There is also something profound in these first clumsy attempts at written communication. My heart speeds up when I watch him shape letters, I marvel over what he perceives as so important that it must be written down. Here, other than his name, is the first document Owen's ever written himself:

It is about dwarfs, and what they do, and what they require to do what they do. Because someday, when he's old enough, Owen plans to play Dungeons and Dragons as a dwarf, and he's going to need the information on this sheet.
If you study the letters closely, you will see that he traced quite a few of them from dots that I put on the paper. Also, the words, where you can make them out, are spelled correctly; this is because he asked me how to spell the words and I told him.
But check out this next sample, the name of a store he and Luke are starting up for Poke (like Pokemon, pronounce Po-Kay) York:

It's called The Brothers Pom Pom Store, and they're planning on making pom-poms to sell, for Monopoly money, in Poke York for the Pokemon who live there. (Want to see Poke York? Click here.) You'll notice that 'Brothers' is spelled unconventionally, as is 'store.' Also, the letters are totally of his formation, not tracings of my letters.
When Luke saw this sign, I knew that he might question the mistakes. So I asked him to help Owen learn to write in the way that I wished he had learned to write: by trying to figure out which letters make which sounds to him, even if it doesn't make sense to the rest of us. Luke happily agreed, and I think he is enjoying being a teacher, even in a subject he's not all that confident in himself. Or, maybe it's because of his own lack of confidence.

In this latest sample, you can really see the evolution of Owen's writing - from me telling him what and how to write, to him sounding things out and writing them himself:

The drawing is mostly mine, but the letters that spell 'Pikachu' are all Owen's. They are, in order: P, K, E, D, E. And he sounded out the sounds in the word 'Pikachu' to get to those letters. So although it's barely legible, it is the one with the most personal meaning to him.

Being there at the very beginning of real attempts at written communication, especially when you can see how meaningful it is for the new writer, is one of the biggest joys of homeschooling so far. I can't wait to see what he writes next!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Different Kind of Yoga Class

Unless you've been hiding in your air-raid shelter, which we homeschoolers are rumored to enjoy as a convenient way to isolate ourselves from the rest of humanity, you have surely heard of the recent, obnoxious Good Morning America segment. The one where a family of unschoolers were portrayed as somehow simultaneously neglecting their teenagers and making them "the center of the universe," which many experts told us in very serious terms would result in the poor teens' inability to "earn a paycheck" or "associate with other adults." I mean, give me a break!

The family in question lives in Massachusetts, as do we, and the whole episode has resulted in lots of playground and Lego club speculation about how the state Department of Education might be planning an investigation of all suspected 'unschoolers' after state officials were caught unawares on national television. They evidently "did not return [ABC's] call" about these questionable educational practices.

It's all caused lots of worry and tension around here, and has me using four-letter words more often than usual. So, when I arrived last night to teach Yoga for Homeschooling Parents class, the hour of sanity that gets me (and the participants) through the week, we were a little more agitated than usual. We just couldn't settle, our minds and hearts were aswirl.

We decided to change the format, just for this one night: we would keep talking while going through the poses. It certainly wasn't as relaxing as yoga usually is, but I think that it worked because we could talk about what was on our minds, and exercise at the same time.

My one hang-up came at a the end of class, a time for silent meditation, breathing, and deep relaxation while lying down. Ordinarily my favorite part, this is when the body rests and the mind's batteries recharge. It is just so cool. But I knew that I wasn't going to be able to get my mind to stop, and if the instructor can't than you can bet the participants won't be able to either... so we did something a little hokey, but for this one time it worked. And it worked well.

We sat together in a circle, closed our eyes for just a minute or two, and chose something positive to share with the others. Doesn't that sound all kinds of cheesy? Oh, my friend, it was so nice.

I shared about a seminar that I got to attend, years ago, on learning through play, and how watching Luke and Owen play gives me great hope for their futures.

One mom, whose son is a type-1 diabetic and consequently needs lots of extra care taken over his food and drink, and about whom she worries lots and lots, told of her boy thanking her for taking such good care of him, such a sweet moment!

Another told of her daughter's experience that day building a shelter out of twigs and sticks, which required the organization of lots of other kids and resulted in an awesome building. It was totally self-directed, unschooling at its best, and the mom was so proud of her daughter for conceptualizing it in the first place - and making it reality, without adult help, in the second.

Another mom's positive thought was about how full of life and wonder her days are; flowers bloom, and her baby chicks are growing, and she's got this fabulous husband and a great family, and all is just right in her world.

I left thinking, it'd take a hell of a lot more than a stupid television show to get in the way of all our positive thoughts.

And I woke up this morning realizing how true that is.

Monday, April 19, 2010


I am in love with Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Diane E. Levin, two education professors who wrote a moving, passionate column arguing against national English and math standards in yesterday's Boston Sunday Globe. These standards are currently all the rage in education, at least up here in Massachusetts.

And that's where the title of this post comes in:
buzzword - n. A word or phrase connected with a specialized field or group that usually sounds important or technical and is used primarily to impress laypersons (from

Fans of The Common Core Standards Initiative want parents to support national standards as The Answer to Life, The Universe, and Everything. Proponents routinely describe standards, as Dr. David P. Driscoll does in a counterpoint column on the same op-ed page, as "strong," playing "a major role in the academic success of our [Massachusetts] students over the past decade."

Buzzwords like 'strong,' 'academic rigor,' 'challenging,' and 'clear improvement' are meant to persuade laypeople that we must adopt these standards.

Like, yesterday.

But I'm not persuaded.

Dr. Driscoll laments later in his ode to the standard: "We do not hold our kids to high enough standards of conduct [or] work ethic..." On the contrary, I think that too often we impose an adult's standard of conduct and work ethic onto children who are too young to understand why we have these standards.

The other day, when Owen enthusiastically greeted a very obese woman with "wow, you're really fat!" he learned something new: the standard of conduct is we don't speak of these things. Until the statement was out of his mouth, he didn't know there would be anything wrong with expressing it. This was evidenced by his question later: "can I tell really skinny people that they're really skinny?" At five, he just doesn't understand why - but from the reaction of the adults around him, he learned that commenting on somebody's size is not appropriate. Learning is what childhood is all about. (My face is red as I write this. I'm so, so sorry that my son caused such hurt feelings.)

'Work ethic' is another buzzword that really gets my goat. To make young children work at tasks they're not yet ready for seems to be priority number one in modern public schools - and if they express their displeasure, by hitting, or crying, or feeling nauseous and losing sleep, or biting others, they are condemned as having a 'poor work ethic.' (Some may even conclude, at the ripe old age of nine, that they are below average.) I believe that kids who are encouraged to learn on their own timetable end up with a far stronger work ethic than those who are exposed to school standards. The learning that they do is motivated intrinsically, because it's something they really need to know.

Drs. Carlsson-Paige and Levin write that these standards "contradict decades of early education theory and research about how young children learn best."

And they ought to know:
Dr. Carlsson-Paige has written extensively about learning through play, non-violence, and conflict resolution. One year at the Lesley Kindergarten Conference I got to attend her seminar on play and learning (best part: her description of how her two boys played together as youngsters, one creating costumes and sets and the other - Matt Damon - doing the acting). Many of her ideas show up in my parenting/teaching still.
In addition to teaching teachers, Dr. Levin writes about the sexualization of childhood and is a founding member of The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
Both women are on the board of The Alliance for Childhood, a group of prominent educators who, supported by a raft of research, have concluded that childhood in America is endangered... by all the damn standardized tests.

Now, I know what you're thinking: what about those pesky buzzwords that I use in favor of my arguments? What about 'play,' 'non-violence,' 'conflict resolution'? It's true, I do like to use fancy words, but the difference lies herein: the fancy words I use refer to Real Life, while the standards-fans' pertain merely to school.

I use them because I want to encourage people (laypeople, heh) to think about how there is nobody standing by while adults resolve conflicts non-violently, waiting to grade them on how 'strong' their position is. By adulthood we're supposed to have absorbed the standards of conduct. We're supposed to have a great work ethic.

But how will kids know those things, if they don't get the chance to learn them? Drs. Carlsson-Paige and Levin are two of my heroes today, for writing so eloquently about why standards won't help children learn what they'll need to know out in the real world.

Friday, April 16, 2010

It Beats the Alternative

I'm thirty-nine years old today. Isn't that freaky? It's dangerously close to doddering old age, but I still love my birthday, the only day when I don't feel guilty eating a jar's worth of Nutella.

Here are some favorite pics from my thirty-eighth year, one of the best so far on this merry-go-round:

This was the year that the chickens came on the scene.

Ditto the Chicken Palace.

Last spring we went to Gettysburg, and I got extreme goosebumps watching Luke and Owen play in the woods where Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his 20th Maine fighters held the Rebels back, determining the course of history.

Old Sturbridge Village, a place where the boys visited for the first time just this past June, has become a constant source of interest and excitement.

My brother's wedding was a highlight, too; here is his bride with all four of her new nephews.

I've looked in on the adventures of my parents:

and learned to knit.

Best of all, I've gotten to enjoy my kids:

And just be in love with, and in awe of, my husband, the sane guy in our crazy madhouse.

Yeah, it's a damn good life.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Zen of Knitting

My hands are better! Not 100%, but with the miracle of braces, ice, and ibuprofen (not to mention stretches recommended by some of you - thanks), I am back in the knitting zone.

Here are a few of my recovery projects:

My Mom sent me some of the loveliest wool from New Zealand a few months back, and here's what I have done with it. This is a vest made so that I look well-endowed-yet-svelte while wearing it, instead of like a big balloon with legs as with my previous attempt at vest-making. It's finished now, and my goal is to put up a pic of me in it - but first I need to wear it somewhere, which means going somewhere, so it could be a while.

Then, just as I was finishing up with that project and casting about for another, my brother emailed me a pic of something called a golf club headcover, and asked if I could make one? In time for an upcoming golf vacation that he's taking? Heck yes! I said, and here it is:

These two projects together probably represent twenty or thirty hours of knitting, and to pass the time I've listened to audio books, primarily Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. They're fun, especially the short stories, because they hold Luke and Owen's attention and so make for good listening all around.

Also, while I've been healing my hands, I've been riveted to this amazing book, The Best of Vogue Knitting. It's twenty-five years' worth of articles from the magazine, which range from history and philosophy of knitting (seriously - and sooo cool!), to about fourteen different ways to cast on (my new fave: the cable cast-on), to clever ideas like knitting back backwards, to celebrity knitters and what they're making.

And so now you must picture this: me, in my backyard, hanging out with our hens - and knitting. If anyone had said to me this time last year that either of these two pastimes would be even on my list of fun things to do, I would have laughed at them.

But that was before I got over my fear of chickens - and awoke to the zen of knitting.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Food and Family

I write a column for Parents and Kids, called Food and Family, and I thought that I'd share a few of the more recent columns with recipes for you to try:

First, one about veggie burgers, which I used to dislike intensely but then came up with a recipe that hubby and I love.

And second, a roast chicken recipe that turns into two other yummy meals using the leftovers.

Hope you enjoy them!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Finding the Beauty - Day 9

Five-year-old Owen's version of Emperor Palpatine's Chair.