Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Last Convention this year...

After a busy convention season, I can finally breathe a bit. We just finished my last convention of the year, CHEO in Columbus Ohio. It was a great convention even though our booth was in a very warm spot of the hall. [I kid you not, 20 feet away it was at least 10 degrees cooler, but the circulation in the hall was not efficient at all.]

This was my team on Friday. On Thursday night and Saturday my husband Bob was my fourth member instead of Alicia. We figured we had 18 kids between us.
Left to right: Alicia, Cindy, Shelli and Jill

It all starts with packing up the truck. The display items are heavy and bulky, so it is always a challenge to get everything in the truck--plus all the luggage, computers, pillows and so on for the four of us who go up together. This was taken before we put in the back packs, suitcases and so on.

Then, of course there is in the unloading and the setting up. You would think the convention hall would turn on the air conditioning while the vendors are sweating like crazy carrying and toting and setting up materials, but they don't. They don't turn the air down to a comfortable setting till 4:45 pm-just before the first paying customers come through the door. I actually had to totally chang my clothes at 4:50 because I had sweated up all my clothes. UGH!

We had a steady stream of customers till 9:00 Thursday night. By that time we had had a very full day, so we stopped at Wendy's for supper, headed to the motel and crashed till the morning. I must admit, though, that after a shower, I was already looking forward to Friday.

The next morning we were at the convention hall at 9:00, ready to greet the attendees. We talked to parents who had one child and some that had lots and lots of children. People loved looking at our Core and Science samplers so they could get a real picture of what Sonlight is like. The picture of the samplers was taken Thursday before I plugged in the microscope.

Many people signed up for the $40 Gift Certificate and Lael of Pataskala, OH won. Lael is a long time SL user and she was really happy to win. Congratulations Lael.

This is the back of our welcome station, for those who wonder what we keep back there. We keep supplies, water bottles, catalogs, but most importantly we keep our chocolate and our maple pecans. We actually ate all the chocolate by the second day so we stopped at Trader Joe's on the way in on Saturday and picked up some dark chocolate covered almonds. If you have never eaten any of these, you are really missing a wonderful way to experience chocolate.

Here is a picture of my husband Bob near the end of the convention on Saturday. Things were very slow and since we hadn't had any customers for while Bob took a break. I call this, "Make Way for Bob." This is proof that Sonlight appeals to all ages. [He is reading the P3/4 Robert McCloskey book].

All in all it has been a good season. We got to talk to and encourage many nice people. It is always refreshing to see so many committed parents raising up the next generation.

Take care,

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hands on activities...

Many people ask me about what to do if their child is a hands on learner so I thought I would tackle that topic today.

I guess, the question could mean a couple of different things. For example, it could be that you child needs to be moving or doing something with their hands so they can learn. I know when I read aloud, Kari always knit or did some sort of handwork--it seemed to keep her more focused and also she felt so productive. Scotty would play with blocks or little plastic toy figures or puzzles when I would read. The rule was he had to be quiet and had to be able to tell me about what I was reading when I was done.

He also needed to be moving while he was doing regular paperwork. While doing math, for example, he would tap his pencil till it about drove us crazy--and he did not realize he was doing it. But, when I let him use a clip board and do math someplace other than the table [he liked doing it under the table, laying on our dog], he worked faster and better.

Many kids do well if they:
  • can sit in a rocking chair to read or do lessons
  • have a stress ball in their hand
  • can sit on an exercise ball to read or do lessons
  • have gum to chew
  • have frequent breaks where they can run around
  • can jump on a mini-trampoline or shoot a few hoops between lessons
  • I recently heard from an occupational therapist that putting a balance disc on their chair can make a huge difference
For these type of kids, they need to be moving in order to do their best learning.

I always figured I didn't care as long as they were trained to do socially acceptable things like sitting in a chair at Sunday School and so on.

Now, on to the second type of hands on learner. This is the child that really doesn't "get" history or math till they feel it, taste it, do it. They may need to use counting bears, beans and coins for math before they understand the concepts. Most math programs for young children include some type of manipulative based learning, and if they don't, you can usually add some as you go along.
Science is best done by reading and doing and that is why I love Sonlight science. I love the real books and the weekly experiments. Before we did Sonlight Science many times I would read the list of what we needed to do the experiment and then sigh and say, "Well, if we had a copper screw..." I mean, science should not be done that way. How boring!

That is why I LOVE the science supply kits that you can get from Sonlight. That way you can actually do the experiments without having to run all over town to find some little essential component.
But, for things like learning about Native Americans, I know many folks try to do the whole "mom takes two weeks assembling all the items needed to make a tepee" thing. The parents spend lots of time and money and then the kid is involved for maybe a hour. I never quite understood that type of learning/teaching and this is why.

I believe, that if you give kids great books and read to them and have them read good books themselves, they will be inspired to do hands-on activities themselves. Once their imagination is stirred, there is usually no stopping them. I remember when I read about Samuel Morse to my kids-I think they were about 14, 12, 10, 6 and 3 at the time. They worked and worked and finally called me upstairs to see what they had done. They actually constructed a working telegraph system connecting their upstairs bedrooms together. They were tapping SOS like mad and smiling like crazy.

I also recall sugar cube Egyptian pyramids and a DNA model made out of pipe cleaners. And I cannot count the number of pretend sword fights, assorted forts and various spying syndicates we hosted through the years. I am totally convinced that kids who love to learn through hands-on methods can do that without mom having to try to do all the work herself. They can learn and understand by reading and listening to great books, and you can provide lots of arts and crafts materials and a sense of humor; and then let them see what they can do. You will be amazed!

I hope this sparks some ideas so that your hands-on kids can get a great education without wearing you out.
Take care,

Photos, from the top:
  • Kari "mummifying" Scotty after we studied about Egypt
  • Kari sewing a dolly blanket--inspired by Little House books and how the girls sewed
  • Scotty wearing off some energy shooting a few hoops between lessons
  • Kari with Monarch after it hatched from our mason jar, science at its best
  • Cris, juggling--great for kids with extra energy and to promote coordination--the Klutz books of Juggling is a great place to start.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fire Escape and Playing Poker...

Dr. Susan Canizares who actually writes for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt [public school textbook publisher] and an expert in elementary education and child development, would probably be shocked to know that she supports homeschooling! [See Summer is no excuse to take a break from learning.]

She had lots of ideas and says summer learning "isn't about erecting a chalkboard and having mini-lessons in your living room." Here are some of her tips for summer learning that really work:
  • Teach math through cooking
  • Take you kids along on errands so they can have "real world" learning
  • Let kids help plan trips and vacations--have them calculate # of shirts they will need for the trip, how long will it take to get to your destination
  • Use penmanship and critical thinking, work with maps
  • Read to your child, she says, "You can never read to your kids too expands vocabulary and comprehension..."
  • Write--have your kids keep a journal
  • Use varied colorful language around your child
This sure sounds a LOT like homeschooling, doesn't it? When homeschoolers take our kids to do chores with us, it is called "sheltering them from the real world" --when they do it as part of school it is called "real word" learning.

Makes you wonder where and what this real world is. It is in school? Or at home and out in the marketplace?

When we use our home to teach we are called isolationists and are accused of having socially inept kids. When schools use "homey situations" to teach concepts it is called "bringing real life experiences into their classrooms."

I think homeschoolers and public schoolers agree on more than they think, perhaps it is more a question of semantics and location?

In all fairness, I think the good doctor has a lot of wonderful ideas and it is great that she is encouraging kids and parents to spend quality time doing enriching activities. I just wonder why the same experts that give this type of advice, who recognize that learning can take place in many ways and that parents are great teachers, balk at homeschooling?

Whether you homeschool or traditional school, the advice from a real bona fide expert says we should read to our kids, have them bake cookies and pack their own suitcases, who am I to argue? Enjoy the summer with your kids--honestly the years fly by [but the days can be really long].

Take care,

Photos--Real World Learning
  • Top-Practicing Fire Safety and escape
  • Middle-Kids on a trip--they always packed their own duffle--since they were about three years old. I would tell them how many days we would be gone and they had to pack that many "sets" of clothes. A set is one bottom, one top, one set of underwear all rolled up together. Then they had to add something to sleep in, something to swim in and their toiletries bag.
  • Bottom-Learning math skills playing poker with Grandpa. Notice the hats--they all had to wear hats and have a cowboy name--ahh learning cowboy history with Grandpa!

Friday, June 12, 2009

All Chocolate Chip Cookies are not the same! Recipe...

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredient list:
3 cups roasted pecans* --[about 10 oz. roasted and tossed with 2 T and 1/4 tsp salt butter see directions below]
1 C butter, two sticks
3/4 tsp salt
2 1/4 C all purpose flour, measured by dip-level-pour method
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 C sugar
1 t molasses
1T pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 C semi sweet chocolate chips or broked bittersweet chocolate

*Roast pecans by putting on a jellyroll pan. Put in a 350 degree oven till browned, abotu 10 minutes. Remove and toss with the butter and the salt. Cool.

When cool, put 1/2 of them [1.5 Cups, about 5 oz] in a food processor and process till they are like pecan meal but not pecan butter. There may be some pieces that are larger than meal, and that is fine. Coarsley chop the remaining nuts and set aside.

Combine with a wire wisk and then set aside:

pecan meal
3/4 tsp salt
2 1/4 C all purpose flour, measured by dip-level-pour method
1 tsp baking soda

In a mixing bowl, combine till light and fluffy:

1 C butter
1.5 C sugar

Beat in:

1 t molasses
1T pure vanilla extract

Then, on lowest speed, beat in:

2 eggs

Then stir in lightly, just till flour is combined:

Pecan-flour mixture that you set aside.

Stir in 2 C chocolate chips and the chopped pecans. Do not beat, just stir in till mixed.

Make balls of dough about 2 T in size. Place on greased baking sheets, or baking sheets covered with parchement paper or non-stick aluminum foil. Bake at 375 degrees for about 9-11 minutes, just till edges show brown. Slip cookies off sheet onto rack and let cool. I just slip the whole piece of parchment paper on to the cooling rack.

NOTE: I freeze any dough balls I don't need immediately by shaping the dough and placing the balls close together on a baking sheet. I put them in the freezer for about 30 minutes, then take them off and put in a zip loc bag. . That way, when I want fresh cookies, I just bake up a few of them. It takes a few extra minute of baking time when they are frozen.

The Best Way,,,

I was thinking this morning about a phrase that I say a lot when people ask me about homeschooling.

"It's a great way to raise a family."

Sure there are benefits like more flexibility during the day and during the year. Kids can work at their own pace and they have time to follow other interests. They can get a great education in 1/2 the time and usually don't develop the peer-dependence that many traditionally educated students do--but what I didn't know when we started homeschooling was the unvarnished fact that it is a great way to raise a family.

I am looking at this from hindsight now which is not always 20/20, but I think it does give a more well rounded perspective than we had when we were actually homeschooling.

When homeschooling five kids--4 boys and 1 girl--there is a lot of living that takes place every day. Every day we were together--all day long. The proximity alone can cause stress or it can cause closeness. Everyone needs to learn to pitch in together, everyone needs to be tolerant of everyone else and the older ones need to help the younger. We had to share our rather small house with each other all. day. long. And that is not easy. It is not easy to share parents, rooms, space and every waking minute with the same people, every day.


What a great way to raise a family. What a great way to learn how to share, to learn compassion, to learn to get along. It is also the way we got to really know each other. We know each others weaknesses and strengths, we know how to push each others buttons, but also how to make each other smile.

Chad and Kari shared a section of the upstairs [a finished attic area, roughly divided into rooms without doors, without closets. The closets were in the hallway for everyone to share]. I remember when she was about eight she was trying to make a counted cross stitch bookmark for Bob for Father's Day. She was trying to finish it up the night before, but threads were tangling and she was getting very tired and on the verge of tears.

Chad was reading in his bed and he said, "It's OK Kari, I can finish it up so it will be ready for Dad tomorrow." And he did.

How many twelve year old boys would do that for their sister? He knew how important it was to her. I am not sure many brothers would even understand that because they wouldn't be so in tune with their younger sister. And, what's more, Chad can still recite all the names of the original American Girls when asked! I don't think many twenty-something men can say that! [Probably not many would admit it if they could.]

I think the bonds that were forged over cross stitch, math problems, shared read-alouds, older siblings helping younger and late nights talking and playing in their attic paradise are unbreakable. The kids are mostly grown now--with Scotty [the youngest] turning 20 next month. They get together all the time for game night, movie night, ball games, going to concerts, taking care of each others pets and on and on. Three of the guys work at the same place and all five kids get together every Friday for lunch.

We were a close family before we started to homeschool, and I know a lot of great families who don't homeschool--but I believe with all my heart that for us, homeschooling was the best way.

Take care,

Photos: Top 1990, middle Chad and Kari, bottom Kari, Scotty and Chad having a story before bedtime.

Monday, June 1, 2009

All Chocolate Chip Cookies are not the same!

I made some awesome chocolate chip cookies last week. The recipe called for roasting pecans for 10-15 minutes, then putting a bit of butter and salt on them, then grinding them up in a food processor and using this mix to replace some of the flour.

I used real butter, real vanilla, farm fresh eggs, real dark chocolate chunks and mixed the batter oh so gingerly so the cookies would be a melt-in-your-mouth delicacy. I scooped out rounded masses of the buttery mix, baked them on parchment paper for exactly 12 minutes and slid them on to waiting cookie racks. Can you see the delicately browned cookies? Can you smell the buttery, nutty chocolatey morsels? They are crisp on the outside and gooey and rich in the inside. Oh, my...heaven in my mouth. [recipe here]
Now, contrast that with a bag of Chips-Ahoy. I mean, they are both cookies, they both have chocolate chips, they both are round--but what exactly is partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil and artificial flavoring? They are not gooey, they are do not melt in your mouth, but in a pinch they will do and when you have a hankering for a cookie, they are not too bad.

So, when I was thinking about cookies, it made me think of curriculum. When you teach your kids by reading them great literature and exposing them to ideas and thoughts contained in literature, it is like the homemade chocolate chip cookie. It is pleasing and satisfying. Kids want more--they want to dig deeper, they enjoy the experience and learn an incredible amount as they go along. Learning through literature appeals to old and young, rich and poor, eager learners and slower learners. We can learn so much through stories--we can be transported across time and space and can experience more than we could possibly experience in our own lifetime. It is rewarding and satisfying.

But, when you learn through text books, it is kind of like a store-bought cookie. It is kind of the same--but it is not really the same at all. Textbooks take a bunch of great history or science and pre-digest it in a sort of "readers-digest" format so you get the gist, but none of the passion. Incredible events such as the explosion of the space shuttle are brieffly covered, a date given, and then the article ends with something like "but even though this launch was not successful, the space program learned from their mistakes so future launches were much safer."

UGH! Where is the passion? Where is the mourning? What is the point of the event? It leaves one wondering why they bothered to even read this book and how many pages more are assigned. Kind of like wondering why you are wasting your calories on a Chips Ahoy, when you could eat a Mrs. Fields cookie. There is just no flavor, no satisfaction-- no character at all to the cookie or the text.

Whether you are homeschooling or your kids are in a traditional school--please read to them. Read them books with passion and excitement. Introduce your kids to your heroes or read classic literature to them. If you don't know where to start, ask me, ask your librarian, ask an English teacher or get a Sonlight catalog and use it for a reading list. Use this summer to ignite your child's interest and imagination and to strengthen family bonds and have true quality and quantity time with them. Read to them and maybe whip up a batch of cookies too! It couldn't hurt!

Take care,

Recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies.