Find Joy. Seek Truth. Be Kind.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Egypt, King Tut, and I LOVE THE WEB

Today we went to see the King Tut exhibit at the Denver Art Museum. It's a bit of drive from here to there, especially since, after an exceptionally mild winter, this morning we woke to a blowing snow storm. We had already bought our nonrefundable tickets, so off we went, despite the weather. It was a long trip, especially for my husband who drove (thanks honey!), but it went by fast for us.

On the way we listened to Peeps at Many Lands: Egypt, by R. Talbot Kelly. I found it at My Audio School, and down loaded it at LibriVox. When we got to the exhibit, my kids had already had a taste of what Ancient Egyptian life was like. The whole exhibit was so much more enjoyable because of this knowledge.

It's an older book (~1910, which is why it's in the public domain) and so it was written before King Tut's tomb was found. It was also written from an Anglican British perspective for British school children. This let us talk about bias in books, both because of cultural bias and the limits of existing knowledge. I was glad to have the chance to explain again why we should always examine our sources.

We finished the book on the drive today, and after we got home tonight I thought I'd see what else I could find. Just at LibriVox I found these that look like they might be good for kids studying Egypt:

The Cat of Bubastes
Egyptian Tales, Translated from the Papyri

Sometimes people ask me "What curriculum should I use?" or "How much does it cost to homeschool?"

It doesn't cost more than a library card, internet access (free at the library!) and some foot work. I don't buy a boxed curriculum. I save my money for an audio player and tickets to the museum. :-)

Where do you turn to for good free homeschooling resources?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

We're all new here

Having an exchange student has been a learning experience for me. I've had to think about how we do things and why. It has been helpful to me as a parent to realize that all our children deserve to be treated as if they are exchange students.

With an exchange student I have to assume that when he does something "wrong" that it's not because of ill intent, but because he doesn't know better, and that it's my job to explain to him how we do it here. There are so many things I just assumed that he'd know, but he didn't. I've also had to decide what issues are worth the effort and which aren't. So while I will always explain to him my expectations, and the reason for them, if he then doesn't choose to comply I have a decision to make. Is this important enough to work on together or is it something we can live with as is? The factors that play into it have to do with who it affects, how many people it affects, what the cultural expectation are outside of our home (and how the world will deal with him if he violates those expectations), health, safety, etc... Then we talk again about all those issues and move on as best we can.

As a minority, RBers are kind of like exchange students. In fact, all our children are new here. They don't automatically know what to expect and what to do. What a freeing way to think about teaching these things to our kids! It really helps clarify what is important and why.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Books on death and dying

The week before Thanksgiving we euthanized our dear Cherokee dog. She was more than 16 yo, lame, and very sick, but it was still a terribly difficult decision and a hard day.

Yesterday, my two youngest came with me as I took my 90 yo FIL to the doctor and then the hospital. Thankfully he's going home today and will be as well as a feisty 90 can be (pretty dang good, but rather stubborn!). We were reminded that every moment with him is time we should be grateful for.

We've mourned the death of relatives, friends, and pets. Each death is a loss, each death reminds us how precious and brief our own time together in this place is. We need to talk to our kids about death, the same way we teach them about life.

I think our culture avoids and fears death in a way that is very unhealthy. The thing is - we're all going to die. You, me, our children, everything we know and love will someday not exist. We don't do ourselves any favors by pretending it's not going to happen. Far better to accept it and talk about it with our kids. Share your values and beliefs. Talk about people and pets who have died. What do you remember about that person/pet? Remember the negative and goofy things as well as the good things. Read books about death. Show your child through your actions that the dead are with us in spirit, that love doesn't die.

All this made me realize that maybe other people would like to know some books we have found useful.

So here are a few I found on my shelves. As always, pre-read any books for appropriateness before sharing with your child.

What's Heaven?
The Fall of Freddy the Leaf
The Saddest Time
Gentle Willow

Sad Isn't Bad
I Wish I Could Hold Your Hand
A Bunch of Balloons
35 Ways to Help a Grieving Child

The tenth good thing about Barney
Forever Buster
I'll Always Love you

Loss of baby, sibling, pregnancy:
Molly's Rosebush
No New Baby
Thumpy's Story

Dukkha is the Buddhist concept that suffering is caused by not accepting the world as it. We will rarely welcome death, but perhaps we can come to accept it.

Emotional Content of Learning

Since I first started homeschooling, no, since I was a child, I've learned there's an emotional content to learning. If you're enjoying yourself when you're learning the content is not only more likely to stick with you, it's more likely that you'll seek out similar learning opportunities. If you're worried, uncomfortable, stressed, upset, etc., then what you'll remember is the feelings you had, very little of the content, and you'll be less likely to seek out similar situations.

Well, duh! Of course, you say? But traditional education hasn't taken notice, until now! Yea. Maybe there's hope for schooled kids of a classroom that pays as much attention to the emotional content as to the academic content.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Math doodles

Fellow math geeks, I have a new find!

How cool is this?

Math Doodles!

Can't wait to show the kids!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NaNoWriMo - Fail?

If we go by word count (or lack there of) National Novel Writing Month was a complete bust for me. I was going strong and making my word count for 3 whole days straight. Then the sleep deprivation caught up with me. So I started taking my writing time out of the day time, which means time away from the kids when we were home. That didn't work so well either.

Does that mean NoNoWriMo was a failure? Well, yes. And no. I didn't succeed in making my word count but I learned a lot, on many fronts.

Good stuff:
I learned that I can write like a demon (which is to say a lot, if not necessarily good stuff) but that I need at least 2 unbroken hours to do it, and the first 20 minutes will be spent pencil sharpening.

I learned that I don't need to wait for inspiration to strike to write. I can write just as good (or bad!) stuff when I'm feeling uninspired. I need to remember that, like love, writing is a verb. Sometimes you just need to do it uninspired.

I actually made progress on my story, made a character that had flaws, AND worked up the nerve to mistreat her a little.

I did fall behind in many chores and activities that we usually do. I had that constant nagging feeling that I wasn't doing enough that comes with a deadline and conflicting pressures. I missed the feeling of playfulness I usually have with my kids.

I learned that the choices I made when I first chose to have children, and then to homeschool the children, are still choices I have to make today, and everyday. My time is the most valuable currency I have, and where I spend it indicates where my values are. As the children get older and need me less, I have reallocated some of my time, but most of it is still for them. If I want to write, something else has to give, and I need to decide thoughtfully what that is.

October/November's books

Friday, November 12, 2010


I'm participating in NaNoWriMo. Man, characters can be hard for me. It's hard to build a character in a novel. (Not as hard for me as plot, but that's another post!) Characters need depth, nuance, and color - not easy for a techie type!

It's even harder to build character in a real person. How do you teach integrity? What do you do with a kid who knows how to play the game but doesn't understand - it's so much more than a game? If a kid follows the letter of the law, but finds every loop hole and bend the rules when it's convenient and not observed, how do you respond?

I try to explain to my kids rules are just tiny specifics we come up with for immature minds. Principles are what grown ups try to live by. I posted a question on facebook recently.
(FB, from here on out known as TGTS "The Great Time Suck")

"What house rules do you have that you'd never thought you'd need?" I got some great responses. So, as an exercise, here's the rules and the principles they're based on.

What we said:
"No cleaning the white board with the cat"
"You may not throw the pet rat in the air to see how it lands"
"Don't hit your sister with a burrito"
What we meant:
Be Kind to Others

What we said:
"Don't lick... " the seat belt, your sister, your brother
"No kids with sledgehammers"
"No spoons in anyone's butt"
"No picking your brother's nose"
"No body slams on the baby"
"Never jump on a person holding a knife"
What we meant:
Be Safe, Stay Healthy

What we said:
"No sillybandz in your food"
"No lunch meat on the soccer ball"
"You may not paint the kitchen cabinets with lime jello"
What we meant:
Don't waste resources

Now obviously there's some over lap. One could argue that it's wasting the burrito to hit your sister with it. Certainly body slamming the baby isn't being kind to that baby. But you get the idea.

Youth and adults have rules too. We have too often ignored speed limits on the roads, ignored marriage vows, plagerized papers, cheating on tests.... Yes, there are rules that are limiting and don't always deserve to be adhered to, but most rules are something that someone saw a legitimate need for. Rules are applied principles.

I want to teach all my kids that we can see a person's character , not just through their rhetoric, but through their behavior, not just the behavior they have when their in the public view, but their private behavior.

Who do you want in your life, a person who follows the rules or a person who adheres to principles?

Who do you want to be?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


IMG! I did it. I signed up for National Novel Writing Month. To be a winner I have to write 50,000 words in 30 days, the month of November. What have I done?

Am I insane? Yes, but this is only a small bit of the evidence.

There is a method to my madness. I've got a couple of kids who love to make and tell stories. I've learned that my kids are far more likely learn something if they do it, far more likely to do something if I do it too.

So, my 9 yo and I have signed up with NaNoWriMo. He's making much better progress than me. Of course he gets to set his own word goal, and adults have to write at least 50,000 words to win. AND I have to keep up with my daily responsibilities like feeding kids, keeping house, running errands, etc, while he gets to play legos and write, so he's got it easier than me. (Do I sound petulant? It's 'cause I am. ) The point is to just write, write so hard and fast that your internal editor just doesn't have time to block you. We're going for volume, and will do quality control later. We can spend the winter practicing our editing skills, but for now we're finding the cure to the perfectionism that keeps us from even trying to write.

Wish us luck!

Monday, October 25, 2010

How to find books

It used to be easy to find a good book. We'd just wonder the stacks at our local library until something caught our eye. That's changing. Our library seems to be moving away from the printed page. It's all about meeting space, video games, and computers now. The children's stacks are being reduced to almost 50% of what they where. The emphasis in the stacks seems be on newer books, best sellers, and media tie-ins. We could find all that at the local chain book store. The library is not about bibliophiles anymore.

So where do we go to find good books? How to we find those favorites and classics that we don't know about yet? Well, librarians are still a good source. So far our local library hasn't done away with them completely. (Bitter? Me? Ha!)

There are the meta-books, books about books, like Jim Trelease's "Read Aloud Handbook", and Esme Raji Codell's "How to Get Your Child to Love Reading". There are books with great reading lists like Susan Wise Bauer's "The Well Trained Mind" and Oliver DeMille's "A Thomas Jefferson Education". There are also websites that can help you search out books similar to those you already like. I know about the Literature Map and Scholastic's Book Wizard. After that I just pick the brains of my favorite people.

I look in many places and then try to put the books on hold, either at the local library (which is becoming harder, what with the stacks being reduced and all) or through Prospector or through Inter-Library-Loan (ILL). If I can't get what I want that way, I have to consider buying it. If I want it bad enough I will. That's what I did to get Isaac Asimov's arithmetic books "Asimov on Numbers", "Quick and Easy Math", and "Realm of Algebra". I've used Alibris for out of print titles.

How about you? How do you find your next favorite book? Where do you go to get it?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Way behind?

I have been negligent in my postings. I have several have unfinished posts, and I have no idea when, or if, I'll get back to them. So I thought I'd share with you a recent find.

I'm sure many of you will have already heard of Paul Graham. After reading some of his essays, I feel sure I should have discovered him before. He may or may not realize it, but he's an unschooler at heart. Certainly he inspired me to write this post. He's definitely not going to win any popularity contests. He's subversive. I like that.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A quick rant

If you follow this blog you know we've got an exchange student. What I haven't mentioned is that he's a pretty good tennis player and is playing for his school.

Tennis is a fall sport for boys around here. That means that our student leaves the house at 6:30am to catch the bus to go to school at 7:30am. He get's done at 2:50 and reports for tennis practice from 3:30-5:30. My wonderful husband picks him up at 5:30 and gets him home for dinner at 6pm. He does his homework after dinner and has (maybe) an hour to visit before he gets to bed at 9:30pm or 10pm, just to do it all over again the next day. It's tiring just thinking about his schedule!

Relating to tennis and sports, he noted that for days that there are away matches, he's excused from class early so as to catch the bus to the match. He was amazed yesterday when his teacher actually reminded him 5 minutes before it was necessary that he should be leaving to catch the bus to the match. A different teacher changed a due date since he might not have time to finish his homework due to a tennis match. "I see how important American's value sports compared to academics" he said. Ya, I guess I see that too.

Traveling on the bus yesterday an assistant coach had a word with him. Our student was told that he should be putting more time and energy into tennis. She pointed out that school here wasn't that hard compared to what he was used to, and that the tennis season was so short and intense it should be a higher priority than school.

OMG! You've got to be kidding. Right? These are still growing bodies. They are being pushed to the limit with 2 hour practices 5 days a week, plus matches, in the Colorado August heat (90+ degrees as often as not) and he's being told to give more? From where I ask? These kids are asked - told even - to play through injuries, miss class, delay school work, miss family events, and then are being told by an authority figure to give even more?

Our student wants to play tennis. I can see that the camaraderie he has with team mates is invaluable. The chance to make new friends, improve his skills, be part of a team... these are all good things. But to value these above a student's health, intellectual growth, and community involvement is short sighted and not in the best interest of the student.

I am ashamed of our educational system and embarrassed by the values made evident by it's actions.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Terra Firma

Recently on an email group an issue I have dealt with came up. The post went something like this:
"My right brained child felt as if something was 'wrong' or 'missing'. He was profoundly sad." I've had similar experiences with my kids.

Right brained kids are exceptional, in many ways. Most of those ways are easy to understand, visual, kinetic, spacial, learns whole to part, sees the big picture, etc. Other ways can be more difficult. RBers can be highly sensitive, have over-excitabilities, be prone to depression or melancholy, keenly aware of the differences between themselves and others, among other things. There are also those RBers who are what some call "profoundly gifted".

Giftedness comes with certain attributes. It is important to honor and address all those attributes, not just the more socially acceptable intellectual ones. These kids can feel things deeply. I think it's important to respect that, but my experience has been is also really helpful to put it in perspective for them.

Some examples:

Once, when he was 4yo, my middle child refused a piece of chocolate because it was "all space. It's just space between the atoms." He has also felt sad about not having friends who "get" him completely. "You're my best friend Mom, but it's not the same as a real friend" (I posted about the friend issue in an earlier post.) What I have found is that when he is tired and/or stressed his existential angst is highest.

With my tired existentialist, trying to rationalize with him when he's emotional doesn't help. A list of friends and activities or a sensory exploration of the solidness of objects, would just escalate the situation. I have to be very matter of fact (in a loving way). "You're tired. Go to bed. We'll talk in the morning" or "We'll talk about this after you eat." has helped a great deal. Then later I point out how certain things bother him more under certain situations, and we come up with a plan on how to deal with it when it happens. He's given me a control phrase that means "I'm going to take charge now and help you, because you can't help yourself." It gives him a great sense of security knowing that I will take over when he becomes overwhelmed.

Another example is the kid who takes a situation to the extreme in his imagination:
"Mom, look at this rash. Am I going to die?" "A splinter! MOM! I need a doctor." When this started with my oldest I took it very seriously - that just fed energy into the situation. As he got older and this behavior didn't modify, I started responding to these kind of things with humor. I'd look very serious, sad, and loving, and saying something like "Hasn't it been a good life?" "A life is a life, no matter how short" or a brief "It's been good knowing you, kid." The first time he was shocked, but then we laughed together, and now when I do it he can grin and know that if I don't take it seriously he doesn't have to.

We need to honor our children's experiences. We need to learn as much as we can about how they learn and support them with that. We need to learn from the experience of others in similar situations. We also need to be terra firma for our kids, centering them, and helping them realize their connections to the objective world and diverse people around them.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Help us find some good books!

My faithful readers (all 2 of you) I need your help.

Given that it is impossible to read all the good English language books in just 10 months, can you recommend some high interest and/or American classic books for a 17 year old exchange student?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A kid in school

We're going to have an high school exchange student with us for the entire school year. I'm excited to have another member of the family and to have the opportunity to see our world through his eyes. What I hadn't expected was to get a whole new view of our community just because, for this year, I'm the parent of a schooled kid.

I just came from a new parent meeting at the high school our exchange student will be attending. It's hard to explain what they talked about. For me it was like listening to another language, our paradigms are so different, I really couldn't even understand everything that was said.

Shudder. I truly hope our own children will never want to go to high school.

The whole process is so artificial. Most of the "adjustment" to high school doesn't seem to revolve around academic learning. Rather, it seems to revolve around learning their system. It is astonishing to me how much cognitive dissonance one must accept to see through the world view of a high school. It felt Orwellian to listen to.

Some examples:

The principal made an effort to tell us parents how important we are. She talked about "School Nation" and "The School Way" (phrase has been changed to protect the guilty) "We can talk about the Way, but you've got to be teaching it at home for this to work." So, we're important - not because we're the parents who have a responsibility to raise our children. We're important because the kids can't learn the "School Way" with us telling them about it at home. Now the school is telling us what values and expectations we should be teaching our children.

A counselor quoting from "Nurture Shock" that high school age teens need 9+ hrs of sleep a day, superimposed with the Athletic Director, Assistant Principal, and Dean, telling us that the more involved students get the better it is. Involved means being in clubs, sports, going to dances, buying an activity card to get into the games for "free" (after paying for a $30 activity card) etc, many of which have activities that last until 8-11pm. AND that same counselor telling us to expect 4-6 hrs of homework a day for our students. So these kids get to school at 7:30am (!), which means waking up around 6:30 +/- depending on how far from school they live (our student will be bussed in and so have to be up earlier), getting off school just after 3pm, going to a team practice from 3:30-5pm, or going to a game which could run even longer, going home to eat and do 4-6 hrs of homework, and STILL getting to bed in time to get 9+ hrs of sleep? That would mean getting to bed around 9:30. Even a public schooler can do the math. Something's got to give there.

Or how about how the counselors who kept saying that parents should stay involved and in contact with the school, but that the students should be the one to contact the counselors if they had concerns "because we want the kids to start learning to take some responsibility for themselves." Which is a great idea. Yet, the kids are in each class for 51 minutes, with a 9 minute passing period in between, a 3 minute "warning bell" 6 minutes into that 9minutes passing period, before doing it all over again. They have to have a student handbook/schedule book with them at all times, in which is a place to have a signature from an authority if they need to be out of class during the class period. So, they want the kids to take on more "responsibility" but don't trust them to take a leak with out express permission, or to get to class with out being told by bells what time it is?

Here's the athletic director telling us of the many advantages to joining a team sport - learning sportsmanship, team work, resilience... all good things. He's encouraging the kids to get on a team and the parents to support their student athletes. Followed directly by the same Athletic Director explaining the grade requirements to stay on a team. "If a student has 2 or more Fs on a weekly basis they may not participate for the following week." So essentially, it's ok for an athlete to be failing 1 class at any given time? Join athletics, it's ok to fail 1 class, we expect that?!?

There's a full time "Community Resource Officer" assigned to this school. We were warned about the dangers of "sexting" - random, but probably good advice. She got up to talk proudly how good the safety procedures were for the school (all but one exterior door locked to keep people out during class time, kids regulated to the proper blocks...), and how "We don't have any more drugs than any other school." (Oh, yea for that.) There's another police officer assigned to the school as well. So, with two active duty police officers, this school is glad to say they aren't any worse than any other place.

Most of us have read that kids that eat dinner regularly with their families have better grades and do better in general than those who don't. A kid in high school who does any of the recommended extra curricular activities has a schedule which precludes a reasonable and/or regular time for a family dinner. The school obviously expects families to arrange their lives around the school schedule. Yet there are often conflicting school schedules should you have kids in different schools. Goodness help you should you have an elementary, middle school and high school student.

This is insane. I'll be getting a new world view from having this exchange high school student, but so far, it has little to do with "exchange" and more to do with "high school student".

Sunday, August 1, 2010

July's Books

I could have sworn I read more last month. Certainly I almost forgot I'd read The Red Pyramid, so maybe I forgot something else. On the other hand, we've had a lot going on, so maybe I haven't.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Creating your own homeschool

"How do I start?" "How much time does homeschooling take?" "How much money do I need to homeschool?" "What curriculum should I use?"

These are questions I hear again and again from parents as they approach the idea of homeschooling. Often these parents are in a position where they feel they must homeschool with limited financial resources, and so have a sense of desperation about finding the answers.

Homeschooling can be scary, since it is so far off the beaten path. Homeschooling isn't hard. Well, it isn't any harder than parenting, which you're already doing.

My advice applies to more than just homeschooling -

Keep your goals and principles in the forefront of your mind.

Search out like minded friends and give and accept support.

Get involved in your community.

Give yourself time and room to make mistakes and learn from them.

When I first thought of homeschooling an experienced homeschooling mom asked me questions that befuddled me. She asked "Why are you homeschooling?" and then "What are your goals?".

I realized that the answers to those questions always lead me in the right direction. Rather than homeschooling from a recipe (curriculum) we homeschool from scratch, based on principles and goals. Sometimes we have used a curriculum or book series, but we used them as fit our goals and principles, not necessarily as proscribed.

So, I would suggest that you ask yourself and your child - what are our goals? Long term for adulthood, midterm for youth, short term for this year, this month, this week, this day... Then with a list of goals in hand head off to the library and see what they have. Find books on subjects your child is interested in, look for books that have projects and puzzles in them. Use the library computer to get on line and find some resources that interest you.

Every day read with your child, talk about stuff - the books you read, a bird you saw, local events, etc... (This goes for older kids too!) Find local events and attend together. In the summer many communities have free concerts, festivals, and other happenings. Your public library might be a good place to start looking for those. Consider volunteering for your favorite charity or service group. There are some that will take a parent with child(ren) for certain activities.

Help your child discover their favored learning styles. Work together to find and create educational resources. This process will teach your children skills they can use forever in self education.

Find and get involved in your local homeschooling group. Collectively you will have many more resources than you have individually, and the support from other families is priceless.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Post from a 9 year old's note book

Wild Child's Childhood ( As dictated to Mom one night)

I'm writing this down because I want other people to know how I think. I want other children to know what my childhood was like, even after I'm dead.

I wish I knew what it was like as a child who would grow to be a great writer, or inventor or composer. I think it might have felt like what I feel. I don't think other people feel like I do.

Sometimes I have a hard time with my emotions. Sometimes I think I'm a little depressed.

My mind is a little like a computer. I have a big screen in my mind and I can see what I'm thinking. There's not much smell or sound, but there are pictures. Sometimes there aren't pictures, but I can see my thoughts on the screen.

Those people who know about minds? They wouldn't understand mine. I want to tell people, but they wouldn't understand.

I don't want to talk to a therapist. I don't like talking. I don't like talking to people. You're (mom) the person I can talk to. You know me best.

I'm not a social person. I don't talk to people about stuff.

(You have lots of friends says Mom) Yes, but we do stuff, we don't talk about stuff. I can talk to you about stuff.

I've always wanted to fly. Phtt That's why I invented phtt the floater feet. Phtt I think of things. I want to fly with wings phtt not in a plane, but flying where I can see phtt things close phtt (phtt is the noise he is making as he talks, think kid airplane engine noise)

(This is after I've given him a notebook and he's drawn his idea for this invention. His ideas come faster than he can write/draw, so he gets frustrated, but he's agreed that trying to write them is better than not)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

How do you "unschool" Art?

A friend asked, "How do you do art with your kids?" Honestly I hadn't thought about that much. I spend far more energy on "How do you get your kids to clean up after they do art?"

It's a legitimate question, so I'll try to answer. Like so much here, it just flows from our regular life. Art involves seeing, looking, perceiving, and then sharing what you see/interpret in a physical way. Understanding this helps me see art as a frame of mind, as an intention, a meditation, and a way of exploring our world.

Mostly I have supplies and idea books around and the kids pick up what they want. There's always paper, crayons, colored pencils and washable markers around. When I notice a good sale I stock up on card stock, pastels, oil crayons, tempera paint, etc. I have a supply of rubber stamps and stamp pads from my pre-kid times and let the kids use those as well. Scraps of fabric, glue, yarn from the thrift shop, and found odds and ends, round out our supplies.

We find inspiration everywhere, at art museums, local kids art shows, art and craft books, stories we're reading.... It can be fun to try some recycled art - using found or recycled objects create a piece of art. Some books we've liked are The Big Messy Art Book, Crafts for all Seasons, The Little Hands Art Book, and Look What You can make with Dozens of Household Items, as well as those I've mentioned in an earlier post, Drawing with Children, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and Making Things.

All my kids love making pottery, so they have all had classes at a couple of local pottery studios. This love of sculpture first showed it's face with play dough when they were very little. Play dough is great. You can make it cheap. It cleans up pretty well and the kids love it. It doesn't last forever though, even if you bake it. Thus the move to clay when they got old enough to take classes, and the use of sculpty here at home. (Sculpty is expensive, so I wait for sales and coupons and stock up as I can. Here's where the kids get to learn about economy.)

Mostly though, as with all of our homeschooling I've found that if I want the kids to try something they haven't come to on their own, the best way to get them to try it is to do it myself. An example comes from just a couple of days ago.
I had bought some oil crayons, which on their own, didn't seem to inspire my kids. They just couldn't see how they were different from the regular crayons that they always use. So I pulled out some sketch paper I'd gotten on sale, opened up the package, sat down with paper and pencil and set out to make a picture for myself to color.

That was all it took.

They bugged me, "What are you doing".

Me, ignoring them: "I'm busy. I want to try these new crayons."

Them: "Can I try?"

Me, vaguely: "Sure."

Here are the results:
11 yo's "red car" 9 yo's "painting turtle"

5 yo's "explorations in brown" April's "I'm easily bored pineapple" 11 yo's "Oooh, me!"

You don't need an expensive curriculum to "do art". Spend the money on supplies and field trips, classes if your kids want them, and just have some fun with it!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Quickie - new finds

You know how I like audio lectures and books, right? I'm discovering podcasts. I've already posted about Grammar Girl, well, look what I found - The Math Dude!

These are great to down load and play while driving around town. It's amazing how much even my little ones pick up. They absorb some of it, and we have great discussions about what they don't.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Tonight we played Snow Tails. Very fun, quick, playable by anyone who can add and subtract, and good for getting faster at that. I still didn't win though. Hmph.

And check this out
Math is not linear

My favorite bit? "Be less helpful" :-) Think about it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Math videos

Someone asked on one of my lists about Fibonacci numbers. Recently my oldest has been complaining about pi, as if it was invented specifically to torment him.

Math is so interesting. It's fun!!

So I got on line to prove it. I started looking for videos that could explain in easy terms some of my fascination with mathematical concepts.

There is so much out there. I can't possibly include them all. Look for yourself.

Here are a some I found and liked.

Pi, Pi, Mathematical Pi
Mysterious Golden Mean
Using a Fibonacci Gage
Fibonacci and the Golden Mean

Sunday, April 4, 2010

For the Math-Phobic

Get over it.

There. Didn't that help?

No? Oh. Dang.

When I hear people say "I don't like math" it's almost as if they said "I don't like eating". I just don't get it. You need it, it's good, what's not to like?

Hmm.. Perhaps motivation is an issue. If you're homeschooling your kids you know that your own attitudes have a huge influence. You can't afford to pass on your math-phobia to your children. And why would you want to? Math is everywhere, it's necessary, and if it's fun too, what's not to like?

FUN. Yup that's what I said. What makes math fun? It's pretty. It's puzzling. There are math tricks. You can play jokes on people with it. It's used in playing games.

Math is useful. You use it to cook. And sew. You need it to tell you how long it is to your birthday, and how many presents you got. How many thank you cards you need to write and how much it's going to cost to send them all. :-D

OK. Maybe you're convinced you want to learn to like math, or at least become less phobic. How would you do it? I think you need to back up. If you're math phobic, it's probably because someone somewhere pushed you too fast, or was rude to you, or mean to you with regards to your math skills. So, first, don't do that to someone else. Certainly don't do it to your own children. Take a brake from whatever curriculum you're using if you need to. Don't pass this phobia on. Remember that our emotions color our learning. If you or your child is not liking what you're doing, then you're probably not going to reach your true goals, regardless of the time and energy you put in it. In fact the extra push needed to overcome the negative emotions is likely to do just the opposite of what you intend.

Second, give yourself a math hug. Play. Find something fun and recognize the math in it. Do you like to cook? garden? read? play computer games? Just about everything has math and numbers in it. Look around with new eyes and see where you use math. Give yourself a chance to realize you don't hate all of math. Sure, maybe balancing the checkbook isn't much fun, but how about doubling a cookie recipe?

Next, try something that sounds fun to you. You could play some games, read a book, do a puzzle, plan a project, read some poetry... something. Just for fun. Not to learn anything, or beat anyone, just something enjoyable, noticing how math is interwoven with your something.

Now do it all over again. And again.
That's it. Cut yourself some slack and build some positive emotions around math.

Remember "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy". Get happy about math!

Friday, April 2, 2010


I first experienced coaching as an assistant coach to my then 10 year old's FLL team. That overlapped with co-coaching my then 7 year old's Primary Odyssey of the Mind team. I followed that up with being lead coach for the next FLL team.

Every time I've coached I've learned something new. There's so much. Just the logistics can be enough to send me over the edge. Then there's dealing with personalities, both kids and parents. And, of course, you still have to focus on the actual team project.

Luckily both FLL and Odyssey of the mind provide coach support. FLL has the Coaches Handbook, a deceptively slim spiral bound volume that is full of help both relational and technical. Colorado Odyssey of the Mind offers an all day coach training in the fall for the spring season and includes with that a coaching manual in 3 ring binder. Both also offer on-line support and forums.

The best advice I can give is to get involved. Just go for it. Sure, you'll make mistakes, but they're unlikely to be critical, and you'll learn from them. The gift you give the kids is tremendous, but the gifts they'll give you are even greater.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Grown up games for older kids

You might have some idea that games can be educational. After all there are word games like Scrabble, Boggle, and Huggermugger. There are quiz games like Trivial Pursuit and "Are you smarter than a 5th grader". Hey, quizzes must be educational since they happen in school right? ;-)

Well, let me tell you, there's something even better out there. If the last game you remember playing was something like Monopoly or Sorry, you've been missing out on some great stuff.

All the games listed here are within reach of my 8 year old, yet enjoyed by this 40 something.

Settlers of Catan - a resource building game that started many folks on Euro games.

Carcassonne - build a medieval world in this tile laying game.

San Juan - We played this card game last summer when we were on the sailboat for 2 weeks. I never got tired of it.

Dominion - another card game I don't get tired of.

Alhambra - build a castle using tiles purchases with cards, way more fun than I make it sound.

There are many more Euro style games out there, these few are just some of the ones that my family have enjoyed.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Find

I usually have more to say, but tonight I just want you to notice I listed a new blog on my blog roll. This gal is just cool beyond words!


Check it out!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Math struggles

A friend on a list posted something like this:

"My 7yo struggles with math every single day. It takes us at least an hour and a half every day with her crying and we're still getting nowhere. I struggled the same way as a kid, and I'm not enjoying this."

Here's my response:

The great thing about homeschooling is that if what you're doing isn't working, you can do something else! Here are some of my thoughts. This is a subject I really care about. Math is really lots of fun! So if I get too passionate, forgive me. Take anything that works, and toss the rest. You know your family best.

I get that you're expecting a baby soon, and that keeping up with everything is starting to get overwhelming. Honestly, it's ok to just take a break, or at least relax your approach, until the baby is older and you're starting to come out of the baby fog. You could call it "extended spring break" or "unschooling" if you need to explain it to anyone (yourself included!)

7 is so young! I promise, you have plenty of time for her to learn what she'll need as an adult.

There's a fair bit of research that shows that emotional content affects learning. If what you're doing is hard on both of you, you're probably suffering needlessly. Things that have a positive emotional context tend to be remembered, with the positive emotions reinforcing the material. Negative emotions tend to be remembered too, associated with the material, and the material itself isn't remembered.

You say you struggled with math and still don't like it. I bet she picks up on this. She's a smart one. I think finding something you both enjoy, at least a little bit, could really help.

I have a B.S. in Engineering and a minor in mathematics. I loved math after about age 10. Before age 10/11 I was considered "remedial" but after I was "gifted". Both of these labels are wrong, made up to describe a child who doesn't meet the expectation of "average". Honestly, some kids just take longer to grow into themselves, and that is perfectly normal. She just might not be ready. Sometimes we get into our heads that we are "bad" at something, when really we just didn't meet another's arbitrary expectations. Unfortunately we can grow up believing someone else's inaccurate judgment of us.

So with all that in mind here are a few quick ideas to consider:

Set your curriculum aside for a bit. Take a break or try something else.

Play store, use play money to pay and make change. (My kids made up a game on their own where they cut pictures out of catalogs and then "sell" them to each other from their individual "store" and set up their own "house" or "town" using what they've purchased. )

Pennies are great manipulatives. Get some paper change rolls and roll the coins in your change jar. Give them to your favorite charity or use for a family treat.

Check out some books with math puzzles or math games from the library. We have math because it's useful and fun, work together to find out how it's useful and fun in your life.

Games - most games have an element of math in them, just play them! Have some fun! Try anything that uses dice, adds up points, has shapes, etc... Yatzee and Scrabble both use math. Legos, tiles, blocks, etc... all have innate mathematical relationships that help build math intuition.

Take a look at the book "Family Math" it has lots of games at different levels.

Check out Living Math for more ideas of how to "do" math, w/o boring work sheets.

There are so many ways to approach math, don't get stuck in something that isn't working for you.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Common struggles

On two entirely separate lists a similar topic came up. They went something like this (paraphrasing):

"My son is currently 6yo and in the 1st grade. He fights doing his school work. He's much more interested in playing with his LEGOs. He really hates writing, but I'm afraid to not make him do it. I am so stressed out."

or this

"My 7yo struggles with math every single day. It takes us at least an hour and a half every day with her crying and we're still getting nowhere. I struggled the same way as a kid, and I'm not enjoying this."

I posted about "language arts" earlier, and posted my response to the math here.

I hear the very real pain in these parent's voices. When both the parent and the child are struggling with homeschooling, it's time to change something.

When I write back (sympathetically I hope) I have to start with "They're still so little!" This is an age when they should still be playing. Play is a child's work. Play is how they learn. If you feel the need to guide their learning, then play with them! Don't make the learning process painful for either of you.

What's the Heinlein quote? "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It frustrates you and irritates the pig."

Unlike the pig, your child will learn, I promise. They might not learn the way you want or expect them too. By forcing something in a way that is contrary to their learning style, or too early, you run the very real risk of turning them away from something that presented differently, or just a little later, would be very natural and satisfying to them.

Folks, don't irritate the pig.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

How do you do it?

Another newbie posted to a group I'm on it went something like this:

"I'm concerned about being good enough to teach my kids."
"If I homeschool I will have no time away from my kids. I won't have time for myself."
"How do you do it without going crazy?"

Does this sound familiar? I hear variations of this all the time, from newbies, wannabes, and excusies. ("I would homeschool, but...")

Mostly I try to keep my mouth shut. No one really wants my opinion. I don't need to proselytize. I don't want anyone to homeschool who doesn't want to do it. But, since you're reading this, you either want my opinion or are a masochist. Either way, I aim to please. So, for what it's worth, here's my (until now unspoken) response.

"I'm concerned about being good enough to teach my kids."

If you want to be good enough, you are good enough. My experience is that healthy humans want to learn. The world is a fascinating place and kids know it. Wanting to learn is at the heart of homeschooling. I don't have to "teach". I'm here to facilitate and occasionally inspire.

Sure, when my kids were little, I "knew" enough to "teach" them. As they get older - not so much. For example, my 11 year old has surpassed my experience in computer programming. Yet, he's making great progress with out my expertise. Why? Because he wants to and has found mentors and resources. (Last time I programmed was in college using Fortran 77. Yes, that was a long time ago. Yes. I am an older parent. Moving on.)

"If I homeschool I will have no time away from my kids. I won't have time for myself."

If you still have toddlers and babies, you probably don't have much time for yourself. That's a function of having little ones, not of homeschooling. If you're at this stage in your life, you know that you have to make an effort to make time for yourself. I hereby give you permission to get out on your own now and then - for your own sanity, and for your children's safety. If nothing else, get your partner or a friend to take the kids occasionally so you have have just a little "me" time.

As the kids get older they get less suicidal in their choices and better at entertaining themselves. Especially if you have more than one child, they seem to be able to make their own entertainment for whole moments at a time. This is when things get fun. You can each work on your own projects yet be available to each other. You've already had practice making time for yourself when the kids were little. Don't stop now. Show them through example how important it is to take care of yourself.

"How do you do it without going crazy?"

Who says homeschoolers aren't crazy? We are outliers, 3 sigma out. To anyone who doesn't "get" it, we've got to look insane. I'm going to go on letting folks think that too. After all, if too many more people homeschool the parks and zoos and museums are going to get awfully crowded on weekdays.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Some days are like this, and some are like that

Yesterday at park day a friend said she wanted to "pick my brain". She had a not so wee baby wrapped on her, as well as a 5 year old and 7 year old running around.

"How do you do it?" she asked. She seemed tired and frazzled. "What do your days look like?"

So, here it is. What our days look like.

Some look like today. It's spring break in our local school district, so my oldest has a public schooled friend over. They're playing Magic the Gathering, safe from little brothers in the sanctuary of his bedroom. The two brothers across the street are off school too, so my younger two are outside playing with them, drawing a village on the side walk with chalk. When I'm done typing, maybe I'll go do some spring cleaning in the garden and spread some brown gold around. These are golden days.

Some days look like last Tuesday. We were home all day. My 11 year old did his piano practice and math before he got on the computer. My 8 year old decided HE wanted to do math too and picked up the first Life of Fred, doing the first test. Later in the day he asked if he could start Math-U-See and proceeded to do the first beta test. When our piano teacher got here I had to tell him to stop doing math so he could have his piano lesson. My 5 year old felt left out so got out markers and a write-on/wipe-off mat and practiced his numbers. Just before bed time the younger two were doing dot-to-dots, and the oldest was working on The Python Challenge. Wow! With the kids begging for more math, I tell you, I felt like a brilliant homeschooling mom.

Then there are other days. There are days when we have to do laundry, and the children are fighting, and it seems like every set of toys with small parts has been out on the floor for eons. There are days when we are running around doing errands and picking up and dropping off from classes, just to come home exhausted and grumpy.

The days I notice that the spoodge around the toilet is beginning to look back at me, the weeds are as tall as the children, my energy is falling and my temper is rising -these are real homeschooling days too. I don't write about them too often, I figure any parent would know those days are to be expected. I realized talking to my friend at the park, maybe you don't know. Maybe you think my days are really all golden magic math days. They're not. Still, I'm here to tell you it's O.K. The golden days will come, the hard days will pass. What your focus on is your own choice.

I could tell my friend was "doing" more than enough. This stage in our parenting lives, with little ones and babies, is a great time to explore unschooling and relaxed eclectic homeschooling. I'm not suggesting unparenting, nor am I suggesting letting the children run the house hold. I'm suggesting that we think about what is really important to us and then choose where we'll spend our energy.

Monday, March 15, 2010

If we treated left brained children like we do right brained children

Thank the gods that we live in a world with a variety of people. We need all of us to muddle through. I, for one, am grateful for the presence of those who are able to easily keep accounts, and even enjoy the process. I wish though that the processes and skills of right brained people were as appreciated, especially in the years of childhood. Too bad the world in general, and schools in particular, are currently dominated by the left brained mentality.

What if it wasn't? What if right brained processes were more valued? What if children were made to feel bad if they couldn't draw or make music? What if the inability to write and tell a good story was an obstacle to success? What if not visualizing in 3D was considered a learning disability? What if we had remedial creativity classes? What if the delayed learning of creative skills such as playing an instrument, singing, drawing, fiction writing, designing, etc. were emphasized at an early age? Would we improve the overall creativity of these poor people?

I think we can teach creativity. It's true that for these creativity disabled children, creativity may always be a struggle, but it's important to make sure that they are well balanced and able to be creative as adults. If we don't start now, it will only be more difficult for them as they get older. Imagine not being able to perform with an ensemble as an adult. Imagine the shame in needing a camera to make pictures, to record feelings, rather than being able to draw and paint original pieces. Imagine the inability to tell an original story. We can all understand the financial hardship that would be caused by not being able to create innovative products and business models. Such a life might well be said to be hardly worth living.

In fact, there are many techniques for helping the creativity disabled to exercise their weak creativity. Brainstorming techniques can be taught and practiced, improving many aspects of creative writing. Extra instrument practice, as well as more time with composition instruction, will improve their musicality. Remedial art classes, including visualizing and identifying color gradations, can help improve the artistic abilities of these slower children.

It's true that there are some children so disabled that they will never compose a truly unique piece of music of any real quality. There will always be some so challenged that their inability to write a story will never be remediated. Not every child can be an artist. But all can be taught to achieve a certain baseline level of technique. Many of these children are just slow to develop and access their right brained abilities. Given time and remediation many will achieve a basic skills. In time, with our help, I believe many of these kids will straighten out.

Luckily, for those who are unable to learn creativity, there are some jobs still available to the disabled. Even so, we must never give up trying to correct and improve their deficiencies. Much research is being done and new treatments will soon be available that will allow even more disabled children to achieve creativity.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

games for the younger set

Games have snuck into our family and homeschooling from the beginning. First unintentionally, and then, bowing to the inevitable, intentionally. In one way or another all games are educational. Some teach math concepts, some logic, some language concepts. All give opportunities to practice turn taking, good sportsmanship, and other social graces.

When the kids were little (2-4yo) we started out with stuff like "Hi-Ho Cherrio", "Chutes and Ladders", and "Candy Land". Just a year or two (4+yo) after that we moved onto "Uno" and "Set" that are enjoyable at any age. I found Boggle Jr. and Mastermind at local thrift shops. Boggle Jr. doesn't get used as intended, but who cares? We enjoyed Mastermind until we figured out the algorithm to always win.

This last year we've found some games that the whole family (ages 5-90) can play together and enjoy. (As opposed to "Candyland", which makes my eyeballs bleed. Shudder.) So, if you're looking for games for the very youngest that are actually enjoyable for you too, here are some to try.

Qwirkle Use shapes and colors on foam blocks to form a "qwirkle", a line of six blocks that has all the same or all different of a given aspect. (similar to Set)

The Yoga Garden Game This is a cooperative game that uses/teaches simple yoga positions and also gives players the opportunity to make up their own. It's pretty fun to see what positions the kids make up. Of course, then you have to do the pose - given how flexible kids are this can be challenging, and amusing. :-D

Apples to Apples Jr. This uses storybook knowledge (as opposed to the pop culture knowledge of the original) to make funny associations.

Blokus - uses colored tiles to pave areas. We vary the rules to allow the youngest to play.

Pitch Car The basics of physics and patience are learned with this game.

Hey! That's my fish! All out favorite here. Deceptively simple to learn and play, devious strategies can be invented to win.

Buzz Word Jr. This is one I was surprised to find my kids like. They get very.... creative. :-)

The aMAZEing Labyrinth Your opponents change the maze on each turn as you try to find your way through to locate an object. It's a fun and different game every time.

Hullabaloo (borderline, can only play a couple of rounds before the eyeball thing)

What are some of your favorite family games?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Origami Math, take 2

Here's a little more of our process as we follow up our interests. This research and sharing goes during the day, between playing, practicing, laundry, etc... (notice how it's morphed)

Hey! This MIT tenured professor, an origami mathematician, was home schooled. How cool is that?

Following some links we found TreeMaker on Robert Lang's website. If you want to try it yourself, scroll down the Treemaker site to find the free downloads. He gives you access to the source code, if you are interested in playing with/modifying the program itself.

My 11 yo spends a few minutes playing with the newly downloaded TreeMaker while his younger brothers look on. He's intrigued, but the LEGOs call, and he also wants to use GameMaker to program.

Later, my husband and 11yo play with TreeMaker some more. It's neat that my son was learning about "lines of symmetry" in his Life of Fred book and then it comes up again in origami. They print out something to fold. It takes them a while to figure out the meaning of the fold lines, but they end up with something with 5 flaps that could be turned into an animal or person. Cool!

Grr.... The PBS show I wanted isn't showing on the one station we get here. (We don't have cable or satellite TV) The library doesn't have it. .... Ha! I found "Independent Lens, Between the Folds" at Netflix. Yea me!

Random: A fellow homeschooler posted to my local group this link to Box Car and One Eyed Jack games to teach math. Nothing to to with origami, but I bet the kids would enjoy some of these.

I discover Math Mansion and find a couple of videos on line. I let the kids watch them on my lap top while I brush my teeth this morning. 8 and 5 year old love it, 11 yo isn't impressed.

Anyway, you get the idea. One idea leads into another. I share what I find with the kids. Eventually something sparks their interest and they follow that until they're done. The amazing thing to me, after having been the student who promptly forgotten content as soon as the test was done, is that the kids remember this stuff ages later. What they learn having fun, exploring, and investigating for themselves, they remember. They OWN that stuff.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Visual games/toys

Cindy of "Apple Stars" categorizes Right Brained learners in to types.
All of my boys seem to have some "builder" type traits. Here are some wonderful distractions that they have enjoyed and that I think other builder/visual learners would like.

Fractiles, magnetic tiles that fit together on a magnetic board to make beautiful, interesting, and mathematical patterns. Art worthy, but has small edible-sized tiles.

We bought Zome Tool before we even had children. It is rods and balls that fit together to make shapes intriguing and, alas, fragile. Warning, these are addictive. You'll need more than one set if you want your kids to share with you. Also, it has small parts, so if your toddler or dog eats small bits, you'll want to be careful.

Puzzellations, magnetic backed foam shapes that tile to make patterns.

LEGO Create-it, a board game that apparently isn't being made anymore, so now I'll describe it and you can decide if it's worth making it. There are several cards with parts illustrated and instructions to make a small vehicle. Each person gets a card. Turns are taken and dice rolled to move around a board and determine number (if any) and color of lego pieces that make be acquired each turn. When you have all your parts, build! Hmm.... never mind, just give the kids some dice and the LEGOs and see what happens.

Blokus, tiles shaped a little like pentominos. This is fun played according to the rules, with your own made up rules, or just to make pretty designs.

Tessera, the perpetual puzzle, another one we got to play with before the kids grew into them. Our set is sturdy and elegant. I wish we'd bought more. With 3 kids we don't have enough for everyone to use at once, and I haven't seen any exactly like them for several years.

And, on the anti-recommend list is a recent thrift store find, Lost in a Jigsaw II. This is a 515 piece jigsaw puzzle with every piece fitting every other piece. AND the picture is such that it can be put together wrong and still look fine from a distance! We are ripping out our hair. My eyeballs are bleeding. I think I'll regift it to a puzzle loving in-law. :-D

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Origami Math

I've had a lot of people ask me about my approach to homeschooling. I thought today I'd walk you through how we approach a topic. I'm writing this as I do it, popping back and forth between tabs on my laptop.

Yesterday at a song circle, a friend was talking about a great PBS show she saw. I forget what it was called, but I remember it had origami, math, a young prof from MIT .... Enter google. (I LOVE the web!) I google some key words and find this "The Independent Lens, Between the Folds". This looks like what she was talking about, so I make a note of when I might find it airing on our local PBS station. Hmm.... wonder if the library has it? Check. Nope. Shrug.

Got some interesting hits with my initial search. I'll go check them out.
Oooh! Here's a cool TED talk with Robert Lang. The kids will love that. Here's a follow up video. Amazing. I don't know what I liked better, the blind folded guy doing the intricate origami, or the cellist with the custom 5 string electric cello.

Well, actually I do know. Cello. Hands down. What was that!?! I see if the library has any of his CDs. Checking. No, they don't. Hmm, usually I have better luck getting stuff at the library... I'll think about inter-library loan. I will have to spend some time find his stuff later. OK, back to the origami math.

Tons of hits, pictures, blogs, ideas, more ideas, when I google "origami math". I look at a few, and bookmark any that look promising. (Using folders under "homeschool/ideas/resources/math, it's important to bookmark things into sorted folders if you're me, otherwise you'll never find them again in the pile of unsorted bookmarks that represent my online life)

OK, now I need to go to bed. Tomorrow we have an at home day and I'll show the kids the video. Note to self, be prepared to find the origami paper and books, maybe explore how exactly one would program a computer to help you design the folds, and if any of the programming and math are within the reach of a bright 8-11 year old.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How to start with First LEGO League (LEGO robotics)

My oldest has been on an FLL team for the last 3 seasons (10 weeks, Sept. - Nov.). It's been a wonderful experience for him. I coached his team this last year, and was assistant coach the year before that. I can tell you that coaching is a lot of work, especially as a homeschooling parent with 2 kids too young to be on the team. With the help of the other parents on the team though, we were able to make it work.

It was so worth the effort! FLL teaches so much. I could rave on, but I'll save that for another post. :-) For now, here are some places to gather your own info.

First, just get some information about the First Lego League. Poke around their website.
Check out the "start a team" link.
Check out this year's challenge.
If it's tournament season, check out some local events.
If you have just a day to spare and want to see what a tournament is really about, volunteer to help at a local tournament.
If nothing else, check out some of the great FLL and LEGO robotic videos on youtube.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Living in a creative society

We live in a consumer society, yet what I want with my family is a creative society. It's important to understand the difference and realize that with our daily actions we not only choose, we create, the life we life.

A person in a consumer culture looks outside of the individual for entertainment, education and survival. A person in a creative culture looks to each individual for the entertainment, education and survival.

Today as I write this, my husband is showing a friend and his brother how to use his table saw to cut the wood they need to build a small sail boat. The friend's children are here playing with our children. The older two are on an ancient laptop, programming in python. They are laughing manically - it must be a funny program! The younger 4 kids are outside burying and then digging up treasure, occasionally throwing a ball for our big mutt. I sit here typing up posts in advance, having just discovered that I have the power to pre-schedule blog posts. (Yea me!)

We are making our own entertainment. We are creating our own community.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


At the request of a friend I'm posting today about games.

As we started homeschooling I began to realize how great games were with kids. Games teach turn taking, rule following, math, probability, reading, planning, consequences, sportsmanship, and so much more. Perhaps most importantly games give kids and adults a place to meet and play together. Any time spent enjoying each others company is a win/win, add to that the possibility of kids beating adults and you've got a carrot that few kids can resist.

I remember playing Monopoly, Scrabble, and a board game called "Dungeon" growing up. Go Fish, Old Maid and Uno were the extent of my card game experiences. Now we've embraced many difference games. From those that included all ages, to those that enjoyed by mostly adults and older kids, we are constantly finding new (to us) great games.

We've got a closet full of games. Maybe someday I'll review them all. Or not. Until then Gameboard Geek is a great site for game reviews.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Being on the Outside

I'm not a people person. If I followed my "druthers" I'd stay home, reading books and puttering. Yet, I'm involved in several on going groups, book groups, choirs, homeschooling, church, etc. Being involved in my community, giving back, and keeping in touch is important to me even if, as an introvert, being with other people is tiring. Dealing with people is a skill that doesn't come naturally, so I'll share a little of what I've learned.

Recently I had the unpleasant experience of being an "outsider", attending a regular meeting that I had missed for many months. It was a good reminder of how hard it is to join an existing group, and what a group can look like from the outside. It's difficult to see why we should make the effort if we're going to be excluded or even experience rudeness when we attempt to get involved. So, for today, here are two perspectives to consider.

The existing group has a history and a culture that doesn't involve you. When you show up, full of energy and ideas, you challenge that. Until you've been showing up for a while, until the individuals in the group know you, trust you, and believe that you understand the culture, structure, and purpose of the group, you will continue to be an outsider. Even short absence can lead to being an outsider in some groups.

Before you expect to be included, be prepared to put in some time equity. Think about what your values are and what communities are worth getting involved in. Although human nature will always be what it is, some are more welcoming than others. Groups that revolve around a shared goal and some sort of work, like a performance group or volunteer organization, will probably make room for you quickly, happy to use your skills.

Spend some time making meetings and learning about the groups goals and dynamics before opening yourself up or expecting acceptance. You're the new one here. It's easy step on toes if you're not familiar with how things are done. Just your presence can build a bit of trust equity with the group, so it's not wasted time. If this is a group you want to be involved in, be ready to give it some time and effort.

Make friends with individuals within the group. Be respectful of existing relationships, and create some of your own. As a whole, I find large groups intimidating. I do better when I know some individuals within the group. An individual can often clue me in on details I'm unfamiliar with, and if nothing else, be one face I can be genuinely glad to see.

Volunteer to do some real work. If an opportunity arises to be of use, grab it! There's nothing like being of value and doing something useful for getting involved and being included. If after a time you still feel excluded, or even taken advantage of, then that will tell you something about the group, and perhaps about your own skills at making connections.

If you are part of an existing group (that is open to new people), be aware of newcomers. Think about how you are being perceived, both as a group and as an individual. The group might even want to have a regular way of welcoming newbies, and helping them be included. Work to create a positive and welcoming culture. If your group has a negative culture you will not only scare off new people, but probably experience attrition of existing members. If there's not already a person who takes it upon themselves to be welcoming of newcomers, consider being that person.

I'm not skilled at people stuff or groups at all. Man, this topic is hard for me. I can only share my own experiences. Please, if you have ideas, share them!