Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Who's training whom?

Dog training. Shannon found the clicker again. She loves the clicker, and of course, so does the dog. Click means treats.

Unfortunately, with Shannon using the clicker, it usually means random treats at random times. I know she's confusing the dog more than anything else, but I'm tired of always saying 'no, you're doing it wrong.' I know she doesn't want to hear that either. But I can hear her in the living room trying to teach a new trick... explaining to the dog what he did wrong, and then clicking. I want to scream. We've gone over and over in the past how to use the clicker correctly. I've asked her repeatedly NOT to train a few specific things such as what she's doing right now. She's calling him to 'come' from across the room directly from a 'stay' ... when he doesn't 'stay' reliably yet, the obedience trainer I used to work with back when we did the school thing said that until dogs can reliably 'stay' through all kinds of distraction, they should only be released from it when you're next to them.

But... today is about picking battles. I just can't have a negative day with her right now. The truth is, I haven't been working with the dog either, so I have to believe that any kind of mental stimulation is better for him than nothing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ah, spelling

So Shannon's Tuesday spelling assignment is to use all her spelling words in sentences. Normally, she does this with her dad... she gives him three random words that  he has to use in a haiku, while she tries to make a single sentence with three spelling words. This makes for a fun challenge and a nice bonding experience.

They didn't get to her homework last night, so she has to make it up today. She's doing it right now and asked that I'd do the haiku part. No problem. She's sat there for 15 (FIFTEEN) freakin' minutes staring into space and doodling. I'm busy walking the line between letting the creative juices flow and screaming for her to focus. She says the first three words are really hard to get into a sentence. I told her that the original intent of the exercise is to write a sentence per word, but she had changed the rules to challenge herself. I reminded her it was OK to just put a single word in the sentence. "NO! It's faster this way!"  Um, really kid? Staring into space for fifteen minutes is NOT faster. Sorry.

Oddly enough, she comes up with her sentence about 60 seconds later. The words giving her trouble? Two colors and a noun. Blue, Green, Shoe. Her dazzling sentence that took her fifteen minutes to create? "My shoe is blue and green."

So, we're back to focus issues. (I'll cover later what I think about the spelling words for this "advanced" curriculum, blech)

(oh, and she gave me the not-so-random words tulip, scissors, and crystal... my haiku:
Lovely crystal vase
The tulip yearns toward sunlight
Get me my scissors)

Monday, March 12, 2012

It's Volcano Time!

Science: Geology, rocks, minerals, earthquakes, volcanoes, continental drift, etc.  This has been a really fun unit for Shannon. She performed mineral scratch and streak tests for identification. She broke apart a geode. We found rocks in our back yard (mostly igneous, unsurprising for this area) including a really awesome sedimentary conglomerate. We've grown sugar crystals, salt crystals, and even baking soda crystals. Today we're playing with graham crackers ... sliding them over a bed of peanut butter to demonstrate continental drift.

Tomorrow, though, we're supposed to build a volcano. You know, the traditional baking soda red food coloring erupting science fair volcano.

I hate that. I think it's a really lousy demonstration of "what happens when a volcano erupts" ... fine if you're just wanting to show effects, but VERY poor if you're trying to look at causes. Which I prefer. See, to demonstrate the causes of a volcanic eruption, you need to show that it is NOT a chemical reaction, but instead heat and pressure.

I think we're buying dry ice tomorrow, and doing a "don't try this at home" experiment instead. Place dry ice inside a pop bottle. Seal lid. Go inside and wait.  Watch out for shrapnel. ;-)

Yup, I live dangerously.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Homeschooling and Capitals

It occurred to me today that one of the reasons to homeschool is to be able to answer the "Why do we have to learn this?" question with, "You're absolutely right, we don't."

Take state capitals. Is there anyone who loves memorizing them? Does it actually have a purpose other than proving you know them? I genuinely think there is no reason to know state capitals other than the state you live in, or if you're traveling to another state with the specific purpose of visiting its capital as a stop on the visit. Seriously. The purpose of this memorization is to have something concrete to test. If I ask you, "What's the most important/influential city in California?" .... most people would answer Los Angeles. But arguments could be made for San Francisco, or even San Diego. But Sacramento is an easy right or wrong answer. Which one is more useful for understanding the history of California? Do I want to teach facts or understanding? Do I get a better understanding of Florida by learning about Talahassee or Miami? My own state, the only claim to fame that Olympia actually has is the government and a history of watery beer.

I promise, there are indeed things that will get resistance from the student, and overruled. But the only use for capitals is tests in school, and looking smart on Jeopardy.

Monday, February 13, 2012

You must really love me!

What a great talk today.

Shannon and I spent about 20 minutes talking about spoiled kids, good/bad parenting, and the sense of entitlement. Did you see the video that went viral last week of the Southern dad (didn't say what state, maybe Texas?) who went on a rant because of his daughter's post on Facebook about how awful her life was? So much so that he eventually shot her laptop? I showed it to Shannon, and we talked about it. First, I had to pause the video after he read his daughter's letter. I asked her what she thought of the girl, was it fair that her parents asked her to do so much around the house? Then I continued it and we talked more at the end. We also (today) worked in examples from books she reads and, sadly, real life friends she has.

She actually asked me to make sure she never became a spoiled kid. She said she was pretty sure she wasn't one, that she didn't feel like it, but wanted to make sure. I laughed, and said that in a way, she sort of was a spoiled kid, I don't say 'no' to her very often, but that she almost never asks for unreasonable things, so there's not a lot of reason to say 'no.' I love having a daughter who doesn't have an acquisitive bone in her body.  I did warn  her, though, that it was funny to hear her beg me to make sure she didn't end up spoiled: that the only way to do that was to wait for her to ask for something and then deny it, and she probably wouldn't like that much. She laughed.

We also talked about how many kids only seem to feel their parents love them when they get expensive toys/gadgets, etc. Seven year olds with iPods. The friend who scorns my Kindle Touch because it's not a Fire like hers is. I shared with her the website of last Christmas's Twitter feed of all the teens whose lives were ruined, RUINED I TELL YOU, because they didn't get an iPhone. Or the wrong iPhone. Shannon's comment? "Parents have rights, too, and that stuff is really expensive. No wonder they didn't get it."

How did I end up with such a level-headed kiddo? Is there hope that 13-16 might not actually be a nightmare?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Math and applied imagination

Shannon had an odd assignment yesterday. She's reading The BFG, by Roald Dahl, and in it, a 24-foot giant is the main character. (he's a puny wimp compared to the 50-foot giants he lives with, but that's beside the point) Her worksheet yesterday involved having her step into one of the scenes from the book and pretend that she's hosting the giant for a visit. The giant is four times as large as a normal 6-foot man, so most of the things he'll need will also need to be multiplied by four.... how long should his bed be? What would you give him for a pillow, and how big will it be? She was supposed to take most things that she'd need, multiply them by four, and give the answer. She had no problems doing that for straight measuring stuff. But then it went on to talk about how much the giant would eat, and assumed the child would do the same thing. How many slices of pizza? How big a glass of milk? I had told her to use her imagination and pretend she was really hosting the giant for a few days. Luckily, she talked through her answers as she filled out the worksheet.

You see, just because a giant is four times as tall, does not mean he's going to eat four times as much. He'll probably eat a lot more than that. We had JUST covered doubling area and perimeters in math in the previous few days. She quickly caught on as a given that in order to double a rectangle's area, you only double one dimension, NOT both. So she instinctively took that knowledge to this literature assignment. It was quite obvious to her that 4 slices of toast would not be enough, even if 1 slice of toast would be OK for her. She felt the giant would drink 5 gallons of milk even if she can't drink a gallon. The square-cube law is totally instinctive for her, and you know what? She's right. She also used the logic that the giant had been eating snozzcumbers most of his life, and would probably love real food so much that he'd pig out and eat even MORE than he would "normally." And you know what? She's probably right there, too. She even went so far as to answer the last question the following way: "How much popcorn would the giant need?" "This is getting way too spendy, he doesn't need any."  I loved it.

So, because she answered (almost) all her questions in complete sentences and walked me through the logic she used, I decided not to "correct" her work and scold her for not simply deciding a "normal" amount and multiplying by four. Sometimes, the joy of homeschooling is combining topics and showing children that math doesn't just live in a mathbook. But sometimes, it's also OK to live in the moment and not require everything to be just so.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Thank you, television!

Short post today. Can I take a moment to thank the producers of Mythbusters, Dirty Jobs, How It's Made, and a multitude of other shows that are heavy on the science content?

Thank you.

These shows are such a boon to homeschoolers. We got to reference two episodes (one MB, one DJ) in yesterday's discussion on friction alone. Friction doesn't seem powerful, but do you remember the episode of Mythbusters where Adam and Jamie 'zippered' two phone books together, and couldn't pull them apart? Shannon does. Friction.  Do you remember the episode of Dirty Jobs where Mike Rowe processed hagfish and was elbow deep in slime? Shannon does. Friction (or reducing friction in this case) again.

Seriously, not a week goes by right now that we don't refer to *something* we watch on Science Channel or Discovery. Luckily, Shannon loves these shows as much as her parents do. They may not be full scientific lectures themselves, but the science content is there, and it usually serves as a VITAL link or 'a-ha' moment that explains the concept. Wanna talk to your kids about alcohol use and abuse? Mythbusters has a bazillion segments they've done on it, usually showing how much things change with only a little to drink. Ballistics? Check, check, and check. How about the importance of recycling? Dirty Jobs has had a lot of episodes on landfills, recycling plants, and composting.

So again, thank you to ALL shows with a little bit of nerd content.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

What's next?

I'm proud of myself for the work I did this summer getting our office/storage/junk room turned into a functional office and schoolroom. Literally it had been years since we'd used the room on a regular basis, and even then, it was pretty much just me, and a path to the computer through the boxes. Before I started, the entire room was piled at least waist high or more in boxes, discarded computer paraphernalia, and detritus from our other various "dash and stash" cleaning rampages preparing for guests in the other rooms. It took about 2 months because I chose to do it RIGHT this time, no stashing. Everything needed to be dealt with, filed properly, thrown away, or have a home decided for it. And it worked.

So we're considering remodeling our kitchen. It may or may  not happen this summer, based on the state of our budget after our house refinances this month. But as excited as I am about that prospect, there's another project that's taking over.

The Basement. Not just the main rec room, which does need it, but the storage room, too. This room literally has been untouched except to be added to since we moved in. That means that 98% of what's in there can be donated or thrown out. This is a good thing, right? Well, yes, but there's that 2% of irreplacable things in there... photo albums buried in a box under mail from 1998. So I can't just take the boxes and toss them without looking through every single piece of paper. But there's stuff in there that I haven't looked at since college.  I'll probably need a dumpster.

Plans for the storage room are fabulous. It will no longer be a storage room. At all. The only storage we're going to allow ourselves is underneath the stairs: Holiday decorations, sporting gear, tools, things like that. The storage room is going to be painted, a floor installed, mirrors at one end, and voila! a dance studio for the daughter and friends. However, we are keeping this a secret from Shannon. I have no specific timetable for this project, as it is very overwhelming. I cannot tell her what the plans are for the room as I remember what it's like to be 9 and waiting for something that is forever away. A nebulous forever would be even longer. So we are keeping our mouths shut.  Today, I almost spilled the beans, though. Maybe I'm unable to start the project because I'm afraid of how big it is, but maybe if there *is* pressure from the small one, I'll have to do it.

Help me stay strong.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


So we got our big snow last night. So far we've got about 5" on the ground, which could have been added to the shy 2" from the other day, but that was mostly melted by 5PM yesterday. Most kids are giddy about snow. If you ask my daughter, she loves it. You'd think I was an evil ogre by asking her to do schoolwork today.

But that turns out not to be the case. She SAYS she loves it, but it's mostly show. She has fun, but most days she'll spend about 20 minutes at a time playing in the snow, then it's inside and all about the hot chocolate. I did tell her we'd do school today, and she was OK with that. I told her we could mix up the schedule due to the snow, she could play outside for a while, come in and do a subject or two while she warmed up, then repeat with more play. No, she said, she wanted to do all her schoolwork in the morning and get it over with. That way, she asserted, she'd have more time. I finally did convince her to get dressed and play for a while after we did math and a spelling test. See, I had to be aggressive, because for today's science lesson (yay, it's physics!) I had to set some things up without her noticing, and I hadn't gotten a chance to do it last night. If she saw the setup, then there would be no mystery to which apparently empty aluminum can has more mass, and therefore more inertia. Sigh.

So she went out. And it lasted 10 minutes. But I got it done. Science and reading await.

Monday, January 16, 2012


I feel like all I've been writing about lately are the hard days. But honestly, when things go smoothly, there's not a lot to write about. I like the big A-ha! moments, but a normal day is just that... normal, and not particularly blogworthy.

I use this blog more as a tool for me. It is something to keep me busy here in the schoolroom while she's working, it keeps me quiet, but mostly, it allows me to vent when we *are* having a bad day. Like today, and we've only been at it for (technically) 15 minutes.

Shannon had a sleepover last night for a friend's birthday. They scheduled it for a Sunday since everyone has today off of school. Well, everyone but Shannon. My plan was to take a few minutes to talk about Dr. King, but because we will have a short week next week (I have surgery scheduled) it simply made more sense to treat this like a normal week. That, of course, was before the snow hit.  So, already, my plans have gone out the window. Instead of picking her up by 10AM, instead Sean had to go get her after a tough morning at work... so she didn't even get home until 12:30 or so. I wanted to allow her to wind down from her party, so I told her she could go sledding for a while until we had lunch. Then, we'd start in with school. The whining began, why do we have to do school today, it's late, I don't wanna....  I reminded her that she knew before she went to the party that I'd be picking her up early so we could get some schoolwork done. I told her I had plenty of reason for it, mostly the surgery coming up next week, she may have a few days off because of it, and I really don't want to get any further behind. I persisted mostly out of stubbornness... I didn't tell her that if she hadn't made a big deal out of whining about it, I might have considered skipping today, but I didn't want her to think that her whining can influence me. (it CAN influence me, just not in the way she wants)

We then attacked schoolwork at about 2:20. Today we started with a math review worksheet. It's a nice summary of the math we've been doing all year, with an emphasis over the past 20 lessons. So the first question she rolls her eyes at me at how easy it is.  The second question she has to think for a moment, but answers confidently once again. The third question? Totally shut her down into tears. I had the nerve to ask her what half of 13 was. This was something we only covered for about one day directly, though we'd dealt with fractions for about a week. The problem was that due to vacation and Christmas, it's been about 6 weeks since we covered it. Oops. I calmly explained that there was no stress or pressure, it's simply a review to show *me* what I need to cover in more depth the next time around. This is not a test, it's a review.

The tears and frustration continue. I've been writing this on and off for the past half hour, she's currently in her room trying to gather herself up. I'm trying to balance my approach between "I don't care, we have to get it done, crying isn't going to help matters," and "It's clear we're not accomplishing anything here today other than building great big frustration blockades, so let's come back to this later."  Someday I'll find the magic solution. If I do, I promise to share. :)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Broken or not?

One theme I've used over and over raising Shannon is communication. I want her to have at least an advisory role in how she's raised, she needs to feel comfortable speaking up for herself and her desires; not just "I want this," but "I would like this and here's why I think it would be a good thing."  One way I've tried to make this clear is by using the phrase, "I can't fix it if I don't know it's broken." So many times children feel powerless. This can be from real or perceived decisions by parents, but how often do we remember arguing with someone and one of you finally saying, "But I was doing that because I thought it was what *you* wanted!"

But back to Shannon. I have lots of plans and ideas for how this whole homeschooling thing is going to work best for us. Which makes sense, because I'm the one doing research on curricula and methods. Shannon isn't capable of knowing what she wants until she knows the options. But I've told her over and over that if there's something that doesn't feel right about what we're doing, she should speak up.

Today it came to a head. Yesterday, I tried to be a little more flexible and not the "nagging mom" that I've been turning into. Every day since about October, the routine has been the same, she starts with her independent reading and journal writing, then we ramp up the rest of the day with the interactive lessons in science, math, history, spelling, or whatever. Every day, same thing, start with reading. I have the day's lessons written out on a whiteboard for her to look over at any time. She loves checking things off when we finish a topic, it has been a very nice motivator. So she slept in a little more than usual yesterday, but I did get her out of bed a little after 10, which is the time I usually try to actually get started with schoolwork. So we were runnning late already, but I made a conscious choice not to get upset about it, but just go forward. I projected calmness to myself, that it was no big deal. I reminded myself all the lessons about child-led learning I'd read, and how much better things will go if I just relax and let her set the pace. She ate breakfast, and then just sat in her chair while I worked on my computer. I browsed, I budgeted, I cleared bank statements, I read blogs. Finally, about 11:30, I couldn't take it any longer. (so much for that resolution) I asked her if she ever planned on starting schoolwork today. Her response? "I didn't know that you wanted me to start!"  What? Seriously? Same thing every day, she knows how much we BOTH want to be done with school early, and we've discussed the only way to get it done is to start by 10. We have done well when we start at 9. Sure enough, yesterday was one of the slug days. Once you get behind, everything takes longer anyway. Our usual 3 1/2 or 4 hours of work took over 5, we finished up right at 5:30. I was so tired and frustrated.

So today, Sean got her up before he left for work, turning his  usual "good morning" into "good morning, it's time to get up." She seemed in a great mood, so sat down with her. "Do you prefer that we start with something besides reading first thing in the morning?" She almost broke her neck she nodded so hard. "OK, we can do that. I thought you liked starting with reading as a warm-up for your brain, a way to wake up and ease into the day's work." Turns out that she says she'd much rather start with math and spelling and other interactive things and do her independent stuff later. Kid... you need to tell me these things... I just can't fix it if I don't know it's broken. So far, today has been great. We did two days worth of math lessons it was going so well. ;)  Spelling test another 100%. What a confidence builder. It's time to have another good serious talk, but more importantly, I hope I can have a good serious listen.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

More technology woes

So this week I haven't posted. I've been fighting a horribly slow internet. So much so that I asked my FB friends how to diagnose if it's my laptop, my modem or router, or my ISP. I got a few good suggestions, and it has improved, but not fixed entirely. But I can deal with that.

At the same time, my printer died. It thinks it has a paper jam, but it was actually something being physically broken in the feeder. You know when you stick your stack of blank paper in the printer, there's a little stop it rests against? Yeah, that stop seemed gone, so I could push nearly the entire stack of paper too far up into the feed mechanism, instead of just one sheet at a time being fed in. Now, I don't mind inexpensive printers in general, but it's pretty ridiculous that you can buy a new, better, faster printer for less than the cost to even diagnose repairing the old one. I totally despise being part of the "throw-away" economy, but I needed a printer/copier right away. So I bought a new one last night.

So far, NOT happy with it. I'm going to give it until Friday to settle in and figure out how to operate itself, but I'm most likely going to be taking it back. It had a very hard time installing itself, and now when it prints something, let's call it a one-page Word document... it fails to print successfully about 3-4 times. It'll print about half the page, wait five minutes, then spit the sheet out half-printed. It'll try again and again until it finally gets a whole page out. So you waste about 3-4 sheets of paper... but if you've dared print a 4 page document like I did this morning, the error only happens on the last page printed.... so it tries that same 3-4 times, but now you've wasted a good dozen sheets.  But, it's still an improvement over the attempted install where it would copy, but any document only printed out garbage gibberish. (oh, but it was still printing multiple copies of the gibberish). The initial setup ink alignment sheet never printed in all of the colors.

Sigh. If only I didn't need it so badly to make worksheet copies. The copies are great, crystal clear and colorful.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Oh, yes, Shannon loves puns, and is quick to pick up on them.  After a conversation where she pointed out a typo on a website (referring to the 26rd President) we talked for a while about the importance of proofreading, and how much better it is to find errors than to have others find them. Or that you could laugh at people who make mistakes (we were joking at this time)

So I pull out my evil laugh, and slap my leg.

Shannon pulls out her mean laugh, and slaps her knee. Hard.
Her hand hurts.

I said, "Irony WIN!" about how making fun of people hurts.

She said, "Iron... knee.... I see what you did there..."

Have I said lately that I love my daughter? Yes, she's 9.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Back to the schedule!

We started back to school yesterday. While a lot of school districts are waiting until today or even Wednesday to return, I decided that after having a full month off, it would hurt none of us to start on a bank holiday.

I am happy to get back to a routine. Like a lot of things that have been unused for a month, it fits oddly at the moment, but I'm sure we'll settle in quickly this week.  Of course, some of the wrinkles come from external sources as well, such as my printer/copier. It chooses yesterday to break... right when I was about to copy a few vital worksheets for the math lesson. Normally, we don't mind working right in the book for some things, but this particular one needed about 5 copies of the same page, thus, the copier is actually *needed*  It thinks it has a paper jam, it doesn't. However, there is definitely something physically wrong, I'd describe it here, but I need my hands. I had a hard enough time telling my husband what was wrong last night. Ah, well. It's failing to pick up paper and blaming it on a jam, that's all I need to know. So of course, I decided today to skip that lesson and move on to the next. But due to missing supplies (blast, I know there in here somewhere!!) I can't do that one either. Oddly enough, I'd be able to make my own supplies if only my printer/copier were functional. I'd continue to move on to the next lesson, but I strongly suspect that today's is one of those foundation lessons that the rest of the next two weeks is really built on. Sigh.

And of course, we're back to not wanting to get out of bed. I can't blame my daughter, I had a very hard time getting up this morning as well. I had no idea it was after 8 until my husband woke me up by grabbing my foot. He'd been up and showered for quite some time. I swear I had just blinked at 6:30 when rolling over.

One of the things I'm really struggling with is my own approach to time. I enjoy that homeschooling doesn't "have" to happen between 8 and 2. Shannon and I are both clearly not morning people. Yet we do have time constraints, dance schedules, errands, time to cook dinner, clean house, and all the other functions of life. The current curriculum we're on is very interactive for most of the lessons, it's things we do or research together. I'm still showing her how to do a lot of things on her new computer that she got for Christmas, and more importantly, how *not* to do some of them. :) So I can't simply tell her "do this" and let her alone for the next hour, much as I'd like to. And of course, each day doesn't take the same amount of time. I'd like to start into a schedule, "School starts at X time" ... but it's so hard. I'm still trying to keep this fun, or if not fun, at least argument-free. I can't go about handing out demerits for being late to class, especially when it's as often my fault as hers for failing to start "on time." So it's an internal struggle. I think it'll help if I sit down with her and ask her opinion, she does indeed obey rules better if she has a hand in crafting them.