Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mission statement in progress

We have been working together as a family on a mission statement for our School of One Pupil. It's not a simple matter, and you can't just go copy a good one out there. It needs to reflect the values you have as a family, each one of you.

We've been working on five foci: mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual (they was suggested in an article I read.) I kind of look at the spiritual askance. I don't quite know how to deal with it yet, as our family is not religious. We'll think of something though--religious tolerance, respect for religious beliefs, ability to make up your own mind, knowledge of the world's major religions... Something.

We've already made some ideological adjustments. It's definitely nice to have a guideline. Husband's biggest concerns were around the social focus. Why anybody thinks that being in school will help your social skills is beyond me, but he's thinking along those lines. I think I will be able to meet his concerns around social skills without sending her to school, but we'll see.

The mental focus was an interesting one. We are still working on that one, but the two areas that we have decided upon as being of utmost importance were math and writing. Math for him. He has decided that he wants Mi'ita to finish Calculus by the time she finishes high school. I didn't meet that goal myself and it has left a whole series of brick walls in my life, so I stand behind it. It is a good goal to strive or, even if she doesn't eventually meet it. Not everyone is up for Calculus, but Mi'ita has a good mind and is good at math, so it I think it's good to put it out there.

Writing was my emphasis. Her reading is plenty adequate basically forever. That doesn't mean that you can put anything in front of her and she will understand it. It does mean that she is not learning to read anymore; she's reading to learn. It is a tool she has mastered.

Not so for writing. She is writing plenty adequately for a fourth grader. That is not adequate for life, though. I have not been focusing a lot on the writing skills and that has bothered me as it is important. In light of this new mission statement in progress, though, I've added a little to the plate. She has to keep a daily journal. Husband added an interesting element. He wants her to read an article out of the New York Times World Section, twice a week, and write a summary of it. Mi'ita's quite good at geography and world history, but her modern political history is as bad as most kids'. It's as bad as mine, I'm ashamed say. We'll both be learning.

It's good to have mission statement, even one that's in progress.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Surreptitious Christmas

Nothing educational for Christmas, Mia insisted. Only fun stuff.

Absolutely, I assured her.

A rock polisher, a collection of labeled rocks, a rock pick, and a book of trails in Oregon where you can find rocks, plus a guide on how to recognize them. Fun, for sure, and not a bit educational. Friday Field Days are going to be fun, especially the trails that you can only get to in summer with a canoe, and places that are best hunted by inner tube down rivers.

Anytime you can take a dog with you, it's not educational.

Rumis is a cool strategy game, but not a bit educational.

We set up a new fish tank with a water testing kit that tests PH, hardness, nitrates and nitrites. All fun.

Daddy got a math calendar from her, heh heh heh. He has a math problem that he has to do EVERY DAY, and he has to show her his work. Heh, heh, heh.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Library Day, revisited

I thought I had the perfect solution.

The problem was whether to continue to require Mi'ita to check out and read one legend/folktale/fairytale, one science book, one art book, one poetry book, one biography, one history book, and one recommended novel every week OR give Mi'ita more freedom in choosing 5 nonfiction books of her choice and one recommended novel every week.

I was weighing the pros and cons in my previous blog post. Mi'ita was agitating for more freedom and not showing a lot of enthusiasm for picking out or reading her books after the first couple library visits.

And then I had a brain wave! She could choose whatever she wants to check out of the library without constraint, but she would have to read my list of requirements from any source every week. She has lots of books around the house that cover those categories, many she picks up and reads on her own.

Nope. Mi'ita is still agitating for option two, 5 nonfiction books and one novel of her choice. She did pick up all five of her library books (all on the planets) this morning and read them all before we went to the library today. I gave her a week reprieve and she checked out five books on different whales today.

We're playing it by ear. Comments welcome.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lukewarm Husband

We've been working on a mission statement for our School of One. In our conversations, Husband's lukewarmness about homeschooling has emerged full fledged.

I was frankly surprised he agreed to it to begin with. He's such a conventional guy and homeschooling is such a left field endeavor. He had a tough home-life himself and school was very important to him--a window of stability.

But our schools were going belly up in our little burg. Elementary school closed, fourth graders shot up to the middle school, middle schoolers shuffled up to the high school, class sizes up to 39 kids in elementary school. What a mess! With the state budget set for two years, this is the reality for at least two years. If Measures 66 and 67 pass, it will worsen substantially--every school will have to cut another teacher. Elementary school class sizes over 40, anyone?

With any luck the economy will turn around in two years, though, and schools will return to normal. Husband will want Daughter back to school by then.

Just in time for middle school, which was the lowest of the low points in my education.

He wants Mi'ita to have a normal childhood. He didn't have one, with lots of divorces and moving around. Along with staying married and not moving around too much, a normal childhood includes going to school, apparently.

Husband equates school will friendships, extra-curricular fun, a variety of adult role models, schedules and discipline, and a good education. When I taught high school two years ago for one year, I saw a lot of kids marking time, walking through classes not learning much, lacking motivation, requirements that didn't reflect their own needs (everyone was on a college track whether they were college bound or not), and learning a ton of negative behavior from their peers. I did see some "good students" that did their work and were there for an education. They were in the minority, though, and mostly I saw a lot of kids wondering what they were doing there.

I don't want that for my daughter. I want her to be excited about learning, learning things that reflect her own interests, self motivated, and not surrounded by negative peer influences. I want her grounded by her family's love and support for her. I want her friendships to be true friends and not a bunch of peer pressure.

I don't know how long our homeschooling will last.

Library Day

I've been rethinking Library Day.

We go on Monday afternoons. I've volunteered to shelve books on Monday afternoons, so the commitment keeps us honest. We walk the dog there. It's a little less than a mile and I get lots of complaints about child abuse making her walk that far in all kinds of weather, but I figure it's PE. PE teachers get a lot of flack, too, and I have gained a new sympathy towards them.

I've required her to check out a certain collection of books every week: one fairytale/folktale/legend, one science book, one art book, one poetry book, one biography, one history book, and one novel that has won an award or that has been recommended. Then, in order to get her ice cream on Mondays, she has to read them all. Not in entirety if she doesn't want to--a chapter, one poem, one legend out of a collection, but an entire picture book if that is what she chose... She is so motivated by her ice cream, she has not missed Ice Cream Monday since we started. (She's usually working desperately on Monday morning to finish her requirements, though!)

In addition to the reading is the fact that she has to locate all those books--library skills.

I thought this was a good idea. I still think it's a good idea. It has limitations, though.

Mi'ita is a fiction girl. If I didn't require her to check out nonfiction, she wouldn't. She reads nonfiction if it sits around the house long enough, but she doesn't pick it up so much. She'd check out a stack of a series a mile high, and not touch nonfiction.

We have the blessing of a rich grandmother who is 100% supportive of the homeschooling experiment. She buys us so many books that Mi'ita drowns in them. If I didn't require her to read her library books, she probably would read those more. She's a prolific reader. The books my mother picks out for her a spot on to what she should be learning, and eventually I see her read some of them.

I think the biggest drawback is her focus. Since she has to check out my requirements, she doesn't browse the nonfiction section. She doesn't check out three books on a subject that might interest her. She doesn't look at books that don't fall into those categories, except fiction.

Last week I thought I'd lift the requirements, just that once, to see what would happen. I told her that she had to check out five nonfiction books (plus the one recommended novel) and read them, but they don't have to any certain kind. She checked out five books on different planets.

Okay, I thought. I know she likes astronomy. It's science. She probably walked to the shelf, saw the first thing that interested her, and grabbed five of them, lazy thing. But they are good books and I know she's interested in the subject.

Here it is Sunday and they have sat in the backpack all week. She finished her fiction books in a couple days. She's reading Oh Yikes: History's Grossest, Wackiest Moments right now. It's a nice fat history book full of strange facts. She just told me one: "Paying through the nose" is an expression that comes from the Vikings. If you didn't pay your taxes, you were sliced on the nose.

So, should I keep making her do my requirements? Should I let go of a couple of them? Should I let her get whatever she wants? I'm vacillating. Right now I'm leaning towards going back to her requirements.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bribes, revisited

Remember when Mi'ita decided that she wanted to earn her fish by reading a book? And I tried to get her to read a science book because I felt like we weren't doing enough science? She agreed to read one science book, Creepy Crawlies and the Scientific Method: Over 100 Hands-on Science Experiments for Children, for her plastic cat set that I won't buy her, but she got exceedingly cranky when I suggested another science book for the pet fish she wanted.

Losing my patience with her, I finally pulled out two of the biggest, nastiest looking history books we have and told her she could pick one of those. She picked out the World History Encyclopedia and proceeded to read it in a day and a half. Hmmm. I hadn't actually seen all this reading, so I sat down with the book and made her "prove it to me", page by page, by asking her, so what happened with the African Empires, the Khmer, Napoleon, Charlemagne, Byzantium, etc., etc. Page by page we figured out that while she read the thing, she didn't understand it at all. Terms like abdicate and reunification and import taxes threw her. And it's political. She didn't know what communism is, or a republic, or a senate, or a siege.

So I said that she had to read it again and I would explain things that she didn't understand, or we could read it together. She chose to read it together, so we've sat down every night for about an hour and worked on a few pages of this book.

Great discussions! These discussions coupled with M&M geography, and she already knows way more than many high school students that I have taught in the social science category. I am thrilled!

(Don't tell her.)

Math U See

Finally, after two weeks, the teacher's edition and DVD came for Math U See.

Mia likes it. She won't admit it, of course, but she does. She likes the way the DVD teacher explains the lessons on the DVD. She likes not learning from me. She likes sitting there and playing with the manipulatives while the guy drones on. She likes that each lesson is short. She likes the side information he gives, like the "rect" in rectangle is German for "right".

Definitely worth the $60.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What is important?

I've been focusing almost exclusively on academics. As a trained teacher in public schools, that was our measuring stick for everything. Public schools are not there to teach morality, religion, have fun, foster creativity, create good citizens, etc, etc. They are there to teach the 3R's, with a little history and science thrown in. If some fun or creativity creep in, great, but if there was not time for that, oh well.

The other bugger of the whole system was the standardized tests. Here I am going on and on about how homeschoolers measure just as well, even better, on the standardized tests, as if that's a good thing. All of us teachers, myself at the top of the bandwagon, derided standardized tests as biased and not a good system for evaluating learning. I've looked at the tests and seen what they measure and what they don't and how a kid may have oodles of knowledge on a subject and not be able to translate it into testing well. And I look at these standardized test results and say, look at how well homeschoolers do! When I have moved into a new school district I've always looked at their test scores.

I'm pathetic.

Homeschoolers are supposed to do 30-40% better on standardized tests than public school kids, too, as measured by that website I keep listing. But really, what are we comparing? 98% Homeschooled kids come from 2 parent families. Their parents are usually well educated, obviously committed to their children, and from higher income levels. Compare that same demographic of public school kid, and would homeschoolers do better? Probably not. Those kids do well wherever they are. (Does that continue into high school? I don't know that one. High school is such a confused time of life.)

I'm pathetic again.

As I've been reading about how best to teach the academics, I've basically learned that wherever my kid is, however she is taught, whatever methodology I use, she'll be fine. So I've been slipping over to the easier methods that we have less conflict using. Namely, unschooling, except in math and languages. She likes languages. Math is our bugaboo.

And while I'm slip sliding away, I'm thinking what is it that I really want for Mi'ita's future?

To love learning?

To be confident in her ability to master whatever is thrown her way?

To get a good job that can support her family?

To respect all the kinds of people we have on this planet, their beliefs and culture?

To respect all the life on our planet?

I feel like I need to work on a mission statement for my school of one pupil.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Unschooling and deschooling

Unschooling is HARD. Seriously hard.

The basic idea sounds very easy, lazy even. Basically, you let your kid study what they want, when they want to, as much as they want, and you don't push them. You support them in what they want to learn, but you don't make them do anything.

The hard part is trusting it to work.

Take math.

Mi'ita ran out of her last math book a while ago. We bought a new curriculum, Math U See, which came, but to save $60 I didn't buy the teacher's guide. I did for the last curriculum we used, Singapore Math, and I didn't touch the teacher's guide--didn't need to. This time, though, the curriculum comes with manipulative's, and it's not always obvious how to use them to solve the problems. So I went back and bought the teacher's guide that comes with a DVD that the kids can watch, like our Latin program. Mi'ita likes watching the Latin DVD, so I thought she might like to watch the math DVD.

I told Mi'ita that we would just wait for the teacher's guide before we started back on Math U See. Until then, we could just do games and such for math. I figured it would be a couple days. That was two weeks ago, and the teacher's guide hasn't come yet. I emailed the company to see what the hold up was. It's in the mail...should be here anytime...

In the big scheme of things, a couple weeks with no formal math instruction won't hurt her. I even thought we could use this time to see if I could pull it off without a text. There are many opportunities to use math in life. We have been playing lots of games that require some math, like Catopoly, and lots more that require logic, like Set and Clue. And of course there is always money.

I have to say there is no argument when I say it's time to play a game for math time. She is more than happy to play, unless she is neck deep in something else. Sometimes I have to pull her out of a book or something, but even then she is much happier to be pulled out to play a game then to "do math."

I even figured it may be good to deschool a bit in the math department.

Deschooling is the idea that public schooling can turn a kid completely against education. They have such a toxic experience that they "hate learning." What you do is give them a time to do nothing until their negative attitude wanes--like an extended summer vacation. The general rule I've heard is one month per year a child has been in school. For Mi'ita, that would have been four months, for a high school kid that may be a year, but it depends on the kid and is only over when the kid is ready. When they have regained their zest for life, you help them learn in way that retains the joy of learning.

This sounded a bit fuzzy to me. But when it comes to math, it makes a lot of sense. Mi'ita didn't used to hate math. I think the hate crystallized when it was time to bring home the math homework worksheets. When she was in first grade, I would volunteer in her class and watch as Mi'ita was riveted to the math lesson, pleased as punch when she knew the answer, feeling smart and doing her work happy as a clam. Then math worksheets came home.

So part of me thinks that maybe we need to take a 4 month hiatus from math and just play games and use math as it comes up in life.

And part of me is terrified of the idea! I would have a much easier time letting reading slide for four months. That wouldn't bother me a bit, actually. There is so much research and anecdotal evidence out there that shows that kids learn to read when they are ready to learn and if you push it, you are actually slowing the process down. Trying to make a struggling reader struggle more just erodes their self confidence and makes them feel dumb, incapable of learning. If you wait until they are ready to read (even if it's until they are 12!) then they will learn to read easily and catch up to their peers quickly. And they will still believe that they are smart, capable kids that are good at many things in life, and that reading will come when it comes.

So why can't I do that with math? I even read this article that said that we are trying to teach math concepts too early. If we waited until they are older, then we could teach them more quickly and with less effort. It makes sense.

Like I said, it's hard to trust that it will work. I know reading. That was my field. I don't know math. I stopped taking math and science when I was a sophomore in high school, which I have regretted for years now. I don't know how to teach it, I don't know the theories behind it, I don't know how to tease math out of every day learning opportunities. Once reading comes, it comes and the only thing left is to develop vocabulary, read a variety of genres, and continue to read at higher and higher levels. Math doesn't just "come" though. Once you have learned how to add, you are not done.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


My mother should have been a botanist. If she had been born twenty years later she probably would have been, but girls in the 50's had limited options for careers--secretary, teacher, nurse, waitress, flight attendant, wife, mother. My mother chose teacher, and she was a fabulous teacher, but now that she is retired, she is a master gardener, volunteers at the Japanese Garden, is starting to dabble in bonsai, and is impossible to take a brisk walk with. She is constantly stopping to look at the plants and collect them in the plastic bags she stuffs in her pockets to start in her garden at home.

I had an idea to make her a mobile out of the various cones in our area, identified, for a birthday present for my mother. I thought it would look nice in my mother's sunroom, she would like it, it could help her remember the names of the conifers we have around here, and Mi'ita would learn a little about the identification of plants.

Pulling teeth!

Mi'ita was warmish about the idea. Yes, she thought Oma would like it. No, any time I found a cone on our many walks she didn't want to stop, collect some, look at the trees, or identify them. The morning of the day that my mother was scheduled to arrive, we sat down with our Audubon field guides and tried to identify the cones, write labels, and assemble the mobile. Yes, she did it. No, it was not fun.

My mother did indeed like it. Since her birthday is so close to Christmas, Oma suggested that we continue to add cones and re-gift it to her for Christmas.

"Sure!" I grinned through my teeth, knowing that this would not be popular with cantankerous junior.

And sure enough, I'm the one collecting the cones, identifying them, and assembling the mobile.

But...I am learning my cones! Mi'ita can identify some of them, too. We go on our walks and I can glance at a cone and say Sitka Spruce, Shore Pine, Douglas Fir, Red Alder, Cedar, and Hemlock without even blinking! I am impressed with myself. I've lived in this area for over twenty years and I've never been able to do this. And cantankerous junior did learn how to do it and knows some of her cones, too.

How to Make a Cone Mobile

1. Fishing line, twine, or string
2. Ribbon
3. Glue
4. Permanent marker
5. Tree identification guides (available at many libraries) such as National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees.


1. Find a lovely stick, about 2 feet long and an inch or two in diameter, preferable with moss and lichen.

2. Find a bunch of different kinds of cones.

3. Use your field guide to identify the cones and write their names on ribbon.

4. Hang the cones from the stick with the fishing line. Glue the identification ribbon to the line above each cone.

5. Tie a length of line to the top to hang the mobile.

Tip: You can identify the mosses and lichen, too, for extra credit.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Body rhythms

I am not a scientist and I don't know the theories about body rhythms. I do know that there are morning people and night people and middle of the day people. I know that some people like to eat breakfast, some don't, and some people like their midnight snacks (not me). I know that some women have mood cycles that mirror their monthly cycles (I'm there!) People perform better or worse at different parts of the day.

Lots of teachers think that kids have their best learning time in the morning and schedule reading, writing, and math then, pushing everything else to the afternoons when kids are supposed to be tired.

Mi'ita is not an early morning person. She crawls out of bed anywhere between 7 and 9, later lately because the play she is in has been having night rehearsals and performances. When she was in kindergarten, I would wake her very gently, no earlier than 7, or regret it immensely. I dressed her myself, brushed her hair and teeth, and set her in front of food before she fully woke up. She is a crabby morning person.

If Mi'ita is allowed to wake when she wants and get started on her work when she is ready, sometimes still in bed, sometimes over breakfast, she is a much happier person and gets a lot more work done. Likewise, she is receptive to learning at night. I often read her science and history books as bedtime stories and we have very pleasant conversations until 10 PM. Middle of the day she wants a very long lunch break over a good book. As reading is involved, and often of a subject that I want her to learn about, that is fine with me.

I know lots of homeschooling parents that like to get their kids up and going by a certain time and I respect that, too. I envy parents that have a biddable child that will sit down and get to work when told to. Then you can have all your work done by a certain predictable time and have the rest of the day to enjoy.

I don't have one of those. I could certainly insist that she do it anyway, but I would end up fighting her every inch of the road. Why bother when I don't have to?

Another nice thing about being able to follow my own biorhythm is breakfast. I'm not a breakfast person, but I get hungry at 10 AM, whether I've eaten breakfast or not. When I've had a regular job I often gain weight, eating breakfast when I'm not hungry and a 10 o'clock snack when I am. Homeschooling has allowed me to lose 5 pounds because I eat at home, mostly, and I eat when I am hungry and not when I'm not. Lovely. (I could still lose another 15...)

Teenagers apparently have different sleep needs then the rest of us human beings, too. They actually need more sleep then younger children, not less, and their sleep cycle shifts. They want to go to sleep later and wake up later. High schools have been trying to compensate for this, but bussing, afterschool activities, and parental needs have made it impossible for most schools to change much. Homeschoolers that have understanding parents can totally deal with this, though.

When I was in college I had a green mohawk and I wore bazaar clothes because I could. After college I knew I would have to dress for work.

I figure homeschooling is like that. Later, she will have to arrange her schedule around someone else's needs. Now she doesn't, though, and let's enjoy it!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Mi'ita wants a little plastic cat set that she saw in a catalog for Christmas. It has maybe 10 cats in it with cat houses, cat brushes, cat litter boxes, etc. She really wants it.

Mi'ita has probably 30 plastic cats that she has gotten as gifts or bought with her allowance. She loses all the cat accessories in about ten minutes, but she does indeed hang on to the cats, usually, and plays with them, sometimes, and likes them.

I already know what I want to get her for Christmas and it's not a little plastic cat set. I don't like buying her everything she ever wanted for Christmas and her birthday. I try to keep it smallish--John gets her something, I get her something or two, Santa fills up the stockings (hers and all of her pets), she gets a good haul from my mother, and I think that it plenty.

So, I made her a deal. If she read this big science book completely, Usborne's How the Earth Works, and did two experiments out of it, I'd buy her the plastic cat set. It's maybe 200 pages long and is a comprehensive book of geology. She loves geology and agreed.

The problem is, we can't find the book. I know it's around somewhere, but it is hiding well. So, we went to the library. They didn't have that one, but they had Usborne's How the Body Works, about human anatomy. She didn't want to do that one. Sigh. She picked one up on inventions that looked pretty substantial to me. I said okay, if she read that and invented something that actually works, I would accept it. Except that she finished reading it before we even left the library and was already inventing flying skateboards in her head that had no hope of actually working, so that was out.

Back at home we took stock of all our science books and I picked out three big ones that would merit a plastic cat set. We settled on one: Creepy Crawlies and the Scientific Method: Over 100 Hands-on Science Experiments for Children. It is actually written for teachers, is over 200 pages long and explains the scientific method in detail. It gives you lots of information about little critters that you can find in your backyard, under rotten logs, and in the creeks and ponds that litter our town. She has to read the whole entire thing and do two experiments. Every time she says, I don't want to do that, I say, then don't. She just has to read the whole thing. She doesn't have to do the whole thing.

The thing is, she is a greedy little Gus. Now she wants the same deal for a fancy goldfish she has an eye on at the pet store. She always has her eye on a new pet. It would cost $30 for the fish and the filter it needs. We picked out another book, Family Science: Activities, Projects, and Games That Get Everyone Excited About Science. It is just a book of projects, so the deal was for her to do 10 activities out of the book.

She did one, decided the rest are too babyish, and wanted to make up her own experiments. Fine, I said. She has to come up with 10 experiments of her own or out of various books and perform them, using the scientific method. The first one she came up with was to cover up her beta fish tank with a towel and see if her beta fish would come out of hiding. Great. I tried to help her come up with an experiment that she could measure. She just wanted to check in on him occasionally and see if he came out. I said that to do it scientifically, she would need to either observe him for a period of time, say 15 minutes, or check in on him once every 15 minutes for ten times, say, or something that could be replicated.

Nope. She doesn't want to do it scientifically, now doesn't want to do anything science related, and wants to never do science again as long as she lives.

Cantankerous! Rebellious! Obnoxious! (What am I going to do when she turns 13?!!!! Help!)

Heroically keeping my temper, I backed off and we went back to the bookshelf. We found another book: Earthsearch: A Kids Geography Museum in a Book. It's only 100 pages long, so we agreed that she needs to do that one and one other. She finished reading it in the bathtub in less than an hour. She inhales books!

Bribes. What can I say? I was all excited about nudging her in the scientific direction (I know she loves science) and watching it take off, but every time I nudge, she shoves back. She is not nudge-able. She is too smart for reverse psychology, too. All that really works is to stay away and hope that she finds it on her own.


I don't like playing games. I'm not a playful person.

When we first started homeschooling, Mi'ita hated math and everyone said, get some math games! I thought, but didn't say, no thanks.

I've changed my tune. I still don't like playing games, but it is definitely the lesser of two evils. Would you rather play Catopoly with a happy kid for an hour, or listen to her whine and complain and get as little as possible done for an hour?

I've warmed up to math games.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Homeschoolers don't have homework, for obvious reasons.

Mi'ita's little ballet buddy was complaining about the mountain of homework she has, thinking that she may have to quit ballet because it is too much. She has 3 math worksheets and a page out of her math workbook, spelling, and a speech she has to give tomorrow. She says that she spends almost as much time on her homework (about 2 hours per night) as we do on our entire "formal" part of homeschooling--math and languages. (We unschool everything else.)

I don't really know much about teaching math. This is the first time I've ever done it. Spelling I do know something about, though.

Spelling is tricky. There is ample research out there that says that memorizing lists of spelling words is not effective at improving spelling in regular situations, no matter what grade you get on your spelling test. Not much actually works, really. What is recommended is doing a lot of reading. Good readers are usually decent spellers. I find for myself that writing a lot helps, too, especially on the computer with the spellcheck on because it gives you immediate feedback.

The bad thing is that public school teachers have a huge amount of pressure to improve their students' spelling. The pressure comes with standardized tests. I don't think they test spelling independently. Maybe a little. What they do test is writing samples where the piece of writing is graded in four areas--voice, conventions, ideas, and organization. Students usually do adequately in voice, okay in ideas, eh in organization, and bomb in conventions. Conventions includes punctuation, spelling, paragraphing, etc.

So they give a lot of spelling tests, and a lot of spelling homework. I would guess that half of what Mi'ita has gotten in the past was spelling. It doesn't help any, according to research, but at least the teachers feel like they are trying.

I don't know if doing pages of math worksheets helps math competence. My friend says no. I know that it certainly convinced Mi'ita that math bites. I tried to find some research on this subject but it's more than I can wade through in an evening. My gut feeling is that using math in real situations and tackling one big problem that takes a lot of thought to solve would be more effective than a bunch of math problems. I'm not sure about that, though.

A lot of parents get all weird about homework, too. Some insist that teachers aren't doing a good job if there isn't a lot of assigned homework--they call in and complain to the teacher, requesting homework. Knowing that the busywork that is sent home isn't effective at helping their child learn would come as a blow to a lot of parents. They would probably still insist that doing the homework instills "discipline" even if it doesn't instill spelling or math skills. Playing a game with their kid wouldn't feel like work, nor would a teacher be able to grade it. I wonder if a lot of the pressure for homework is a grasp to help their kid get a good grade.

Grades are things that I have very happily jettisoned.

Anyway, I think it's tragic for Mi'ita's ballet buddy to quit ballet because she has too much homework to do. Is the value of the work done more than the value of taking ballet?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

High School

I just met a homeschooled high school girl that got me anxious. She is 16, lives with her mother but is in a horribly strained relationship with her, has not done an academic thing in a year, and has been homeschooled since 2nd grade because she has an extreme anxiety disorder.

Oh boy.

The high school aged homeschoolers that I have heard of are self motivated and doing amazing work in areas that interest them. That's what I think of when I think of homeschooled teenagers. I think of "the other teenagers" being adrift, unmotivated, and aimless, mostly because the atmosphere of public high schools is oppressive to many kids that it drains their own self motivation. I thought that homeschooling was the answer! This girl, one of the very few homeschooled high school kids that I actually have met, showed me quite clearly that homeschool families are not immune to the yucky teenage years.


She said that she is thinking of working on her GED and getting a driver's license.



That made me pause again. Do homeschoolers have to get a GED to "officially" graduate? GED's are loaded. For a lot of people they carry the connotation of 'high school drop-out', and 'has enough gumption to go back and get a diploma of some sort'. While I have a lot of respect for people who have enough gumption to go back and get a GED, it makes me think what was going on that they didn't finish high school the regular way. General flakiness? Baby? Drugs? Run away? Family disintegration? Too much of a genius and needed to go straight to college?

None of those may be correct in an individual's case, but a GED makes people wonder.

I don't want people to wonder when looking at my daughter's future credentials. I want her to have a regular diploma.

Needless to say I trotted home to check out the legal situation.

Whew, I am glad I did. Homeschoolers have a huge amount of freedom in getting a high school diploma. They can meet their state's requirements if they like, but are not obligated to. Their parents or whoever has been homeschooling them can just up and write a diploma out whenever they think their child has met their own requirements, whatever they may be.

The transcript is the important piece, I think. While a parent can write a diploma whenever they want, it can likewise be rejected anywhere if it is useless. A transcript states, simply, what a graduate was required to do to receive his or her diploma.

This girl who admitted to doing diddly for the last year, will have to have her mother write out her diploma. She has also admitted to a horrible relationship with said mother, I am guessing related to the fact that she has done diddly for the last year. I am also guessing that her mother would love to come up with a plan of action with her daughter to accomplish certain goals and, when she meets those goals, to award her a diploma. I am further guessing that the daughter is looking for a way to bypass her mother because she is a rebellious teenager.

Nice little collection of stereotypes I've collected, isn't it? I'm showing my biases.

That is a ton of guesswork on my part and I just met the girl so I am most likely way off.

But if I am right, what are this girl's options? Her mother won't write her a diploma because she doesn't think she deserves one. So, this girl can:

1. prove to her mother that she deserves one by getting back to work.

2. get a GED.

3. go to high school, meet their requirements and get a diploma.

4. skip all that and start taking community college classes.

The last option is actually what a lot of homeschoolers do, I think. Our local community college allows high school students to take classes. Once you have taken a few classes and done well, you have proved your ability to do the work. Then you can get officially admitted to an academic program and just start on your college career. After you get a college diploma of any kind, a high school diploma is moot.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A kinder, gentler business world

Do you remember playing Monopoly when you were a kid?

I played with my two brothers and it was painful. Literally. It was this cut-throat game where if someone landed on your property with motels on it and went bankrupt, there was dancing on the living room carpet. I remember land minds of built up properties with only a few safe zones that you prayed for. If you landed on luxury tax, you celebrated because you got off cheap. I got stomach aches from it.

Mi'ita saw Cat-opoly in Sandcastle Toys the other day.

Sandcastle Toys is the best toy store on the planet and it's right across the street from the lizard store (herpetology.) Since we have to buy crickets for our lizard once or twice a week, we've been regulars at Sandcastle Toys. It is full of educational toys. Smart kid toys. I've been hemorrhaging from the wallet there regularly since we've started homeschooling.

Cat-opoly is Monopoly with cats, and it is math. Adding, subtracting, percentages, large numbers, small numbers, mental math, using a calculator. It has cats all over it and Mi'ita is a cat girl.

We bought it, of course. Mi'ita had $20 of her own money to spend, it was 20% off, and I made up the difference. (Having a coupon for 20% at a toy store when you have money to burn in excellent math!)

I was nervous when we brought it home. I was hoping that we could figure out a way to play it so that I wouldn't get stomach aches. Mi'ita, either. She hadn't ever played Monopoly so this was new.

It was weird. Seriously weird. Perhaps not having siblings has its good points. I don't know.

Mi'ita was sweet. "Oh, mommy, you landed on my property! You owe me $14, but you can just pay me $10." "Oh, mommy, you landed in Water (jail) and you don't have much money. I'll pay to get you out." "Oh, mommy, I have fishbones (a hotel) on that property and it's $1160, but you don't have it. Don't pay it this time, and when I land on your fishbone, you can let me off."

Um. Is this a good thing? I certainly didn't get a stomach ache. There was a lot of kisses and hugs involved. How did she get this way? Not having siblings to get competitive with? Seeing me with money being generous with people?

It is certainly how I'd rather live my life, but is it good business?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Math Program

Mi'ita finished her first math book, Singapore Math 3A, last week.

Dilemma. Should I continue this program that I know is good but she hates? Or should I switch programs? I looked online at Math U See, my next runner up when I was researching math. It didn't seem that exciting to me. The program boasts about all the manipulative's, but all I saw were base ten blocks.

I called Mi'ita over and asked her if it looked exciting to her. She took one look at the base ten blocks and said, "Oh, I LOVE those!"

I bought the program.

They came Friday afternoon as we were about to leave for the weekend. She was all excited to open them, but I didn't let her--we were about ready to walk out the door. When she got back Monday night she wanted to open them again. Again, I didn't let her. It was bath then bed time.

7 AM Tuesday morning and she wanted to get up and do math. She hasn't done that since we started homeschooling in August.

Before you get all excited about buying this program for your kids, know this. We opened the box and played with the base ten blocks. When it was time to do the math problems, no interest.

This doesn't worry me. She didn't have any interest in doing Singapore Math, either. If she gets some math concepts by just playing with the blocks, great. She still has to do the five problems four times per week. If she does them with little interest, but complains less, I'll take that as a success.

The level we bought for her, Delta, has a lot of review for her. We have covered long multiplication and long division already, but this book approaches it differently so we need to learn their methodology. Fine. Learning several ways to do the same functions is good. As soon as she gets the hang of their notation (more algebraic) and what they require for the manipulative's, we can speed up and skip some stuff.

Y'all are probably thinking that I am slacking. My daughter basically has to do the sum total of 20 math problems a week. Most kids do double that every day! But as my friend pointed out, if she can demonstrate in 5 problems that she knows the concept, forcing her to do 40 will just make her cranky and turn her off of math. I would rather her do a lot less rote math and like it. And we have shifted our emphasis to games, puzzles, mysteries, and word problems. She loves word problems. She thinks of them as puzzles to solve. Word problems are how math is used in real life so that thrills me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mi'ita's Day Off

Yesterday was Veteran's Day and we had a friend spend the day with us. Basically it was Friday Field Day on Wednesday. Boy did they work me! Horseback riding lessons in the morning, mucking out stalls after, home for showers, off to pizza for lunch, the aquarium to visit the new buzzards, the pet store to see the puppies and fish, off to the Bayfront to shop, walk the dog to the rope swing, dinner, and then play practice. They were on the ball from 9:30-8.

Today was supposed to be a regular day. After 10 minutes of her 5 math problems (to prove to me she doesn't need more) we were going to do a math game, Swahili, and latin. She had her nose in her book, though, so I let her finish it first. After 15 minutes of uncooperative Swahili, I asked her if she just needed the day off. Yesterday was so much. Relieved, she agreed.

Her day off? She spent the whole morning reading. She finished an entire collection of Norse myths and a book about The Medieval World. Then we went off to school to learn more about rocks and start a project on the Clatsop Indians. Then ballet.

That's her day off.

Whew! I read somewhere that the only way to teach TAG (Talented and Gifted) kids is to unschool them. I am not ready to say I am unschooling yet, but her freeschooling is getting looser and looser.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

One unschooled person's eval of high school

A young man who had been unschooled his entire life decided to try high school his freshman year. He wrote about it.


It's interesting. A couple of my favorite quotes:

"I also understood why public school kids act like they do. It's called loss of motivation."

"I quickly realized that if I had to endure that shit for 9 years, I probably wouldn't be the person I am today. Friends have told me "you would have been a complete honors student!". [He had a 3.8 GPA.] I say no, I would've have been a lazy ass bum that wanted nothing more than a couch in life. (Which, I might add I learned a lot from TV. But you get my point. ;P) The thing that made me responsible, smart, and motivated was my unschooling life. And as stupid, annoying, unmotivated, whatever most of the public school kids are, you really can't blame them."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A couple of years down the road

Husband and I have a different idea of the future of our child.

We both agreed that the schools right now are in bad shape with class sizes in the mid to upper 30's. That's why Husband agreed to homeschool, which surprised me. When I found out that Mi'ita's grade level, 4th, by some strange blip in the demographics has class sizes in the mid to upper 20's, I didn't tell him right away. It was already a couple weeks into school when I found out and more than a month before I told him. If we had known that, we probably would have enrolled her but we were committed, had bought the materials, everything was going well, etc. We decided without even discussing it to stay the course.

The more I find out about homeschooling and the more I do it, the more I am convinced that it is a better education both academically and socially for children. Teaching and going through the school system myself has left me with at best luke-warm feelings about k-12 schools.

The HSLDA report also said that homeschoolers that continue their whole career through high school have the highest academic scores of all.

I am ready to do it.

My own middle school and high school experience were what I consider the low point of my life. I was a stringy haired, chubby, bottle thick glasses, nose in a book, honors classes, socially awkward but friendly type of kid that was skewered by the social elite of school. My hair was pulled, I was taunted, things were thrown at me not daily but often enough that school has no allure to me. I found my education mostly in the library and in history discussions with my father.

Husband had a different experience. He was in band, on the football team, and in all the honors classes, so though he was not in the social elite he was a part of three clicks. Asides from being paralyzed by the thought of girls, most of his school days were all right. He did do a brief stint in an inner city LA high school, lasting less than a month, had a gang after him, and refused to go back. He moved back in with his stepfather to the little rural school he was used to.

Husband understands a bad high school and would be willing to homeschool if we had one. But we don't. The local high school, right around the corner, is a good one. Not the best one on the planet, but good. We even have a charter magnet school for science as an option for middle school. It has an excellent reputation as does the International Baccalaureate tract at the high school.

According to HSLDA, though, homeschooling does better. Even with the parents not knowing everything.

Husband is not looking at just academics, though. He remembers band and football and wants Mi'ita to have the same fun opportunities that he had. I remember spit wads thrown at me during class in front of teachers who were too busy grading papers to stop my tormentors.

Every state has different rules about how much homeschoolers can ask of the local schools. Ours is very generous and Mi'ita can be a part of high school sports, music, and whatnot. I don't want her to miss out on the opportunities of high school if she wants them. I envision her cherry picking her classes--having music before lunch and chemistry after it, having lunch with her friends, then homeschooling the rest, or some such. She would have the social scene at school, have friends to go to the football games with, proms and boys and whatever else floats her boat, but getting her real education at home.

I have no idea what will happen. I have a feeling that in two years, Mi'ita will be enrolled in the magnet middle school and we'll give it a whirl. If she has an experience like Husband's, she'll stay. If she has an experience like mine, we'll homeschool.

Or maybe not. Maybe in two years Mi'ita will like homeschooling so much that she won't have any desire to go to regular school and it will be two against one. She does like it.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Footing the bill

By far the most expensive part of homeschooling is a stay-at-home parent.

Almost 98% of homeschoolers come from a two parent household, most are taught by their moms, most moms either don't work at all or have a part time job.

Homeschooling is a full time job that doesn't pay diddly squat. I can't imagine doing it as a single parent.

I don't work. Asides from the two years I took off when Mi'ita was born, this is the first time in my adult life where I didn't have a job or wasn't in school myself. It's a transition for me. I quit my job not to homeschool but because I hated the school district I worked for and the regulations around ESL teaching. Then the schools around here went belly up from budget cuts caused by the economy. Class sizes were heading over the mid to upper 30's, and I just decided to pull her. I'd been thinking of homeschooling for a while now as I have heard homeschoolers doing amazing things. I thought now was a good time. The perfect storm, to use an overworked cliche.

I've been trying to figure out how to work a tiny bit, though. My husband makes enough, thank the good Lord, that I don't have to work at all. I'd like to pay for two things, though: 1) her homeschooling materials and trips and 2) the $200 I've been putting aside for her college since she was born. I've been paying for those things out of my savings so far. As a certified teacher, I could sub, which pays well ($200 per day before taxes) and is very flexible. I'd only have to sub 2-3 days per month to take care of those expenses.

The only part I can't figure out is where to stash Mi'ita. At nine years old, she is too young to stay at home by herself those days. In a couple years I could see doing that and I think she'd do fine. But not now. She is too old to go to daycare.

I've been trying to jobshare with other homeschoolers. I've approached two other moms. Both agreed to try. One flaked. The other is going to try it out with me. She has a son 6 months older than Mi'ita. Tomorrow he is going to spend the day with us. If it works out, I'd like him to come once a week and I can then stash Mi'ita with his mom to homeschool for the day when I get jobs.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Delight Directed Homeschooling

Delight directed homeschooling is a new term for me. I discovered it as I was reading the HSLDA report about the academic success of different homeschooling methods. Apparently delight directed homeschooling is just as effective as the beat-them-over-the-head-with-a-book method.


I've got to learn more about it. Apparently you follow a child's lead and study things that "delight" them. I'm not sure how that's different from the unschooled approach. Since Mia is so interested in the world, I think it might work for her.

When I was a librarian and parents came to me worried that their older kids never read and didn't want to and weren't good at it, I gave them all the same advice. Put into their hands literature about ANYTHING they are interested in. If they are a skateboard punk, get them a subscription to a skateboard magazine. If they like guns, get them Eyewitness Weapons. If they like fashion, boys, and make-up, get them a subscription to Teen People. Magazines work especially well for older kids.

And here it is. My advice coming back to me, kind of.

I've been kind-of following it already. I've tossed all preconceptions about scope and sequence in science, history, geography, etc. She gets to learn about what she wants, when she wants it. I've dropped spelling and grammar as independent subjects completely. I make her write a piece for her blog once a week, give or take, and don't direct her writing inside or outside of that.

I can't let go of math, though.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Field Day

Our Fridays were supposed to be field trips to see museums, zoos, field studies in forests and swimming holes. I know we live in a tiny town 3 hours from the major metropolis of less than a million people in a biggish but sparsely populated state. But still! Even our little burg has a few museums...that we've seen ten times already and go to every time we get visitors.

What have we done on Fridays? Well, we went to the Oregon Coast Aquarium last week to watch the daddy scuba dive in a Halloween costume for their festivities. That was cool. We started a hideous papermache Cerberus the week before that. My aunt and uncle were visiting from Thailand before that and we showed them around town (remember those museums?) She got some cool paper money from Thailand, Oman, Qatar, and Egypt for her coin/money collection.

There's this wildlife safari down near Roseburg that biologist friends have said is worth going to, but it's three hours away each way and my rear is not up for the drive yet. I wanted to get to Mt. St. Helens before the snows hit, but that didn't happen. We probably could still get to historic Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood built in the 30's as a depression era work project. It's a ski resort so the roads are well plowed, but I'm a wimp and I know that plowed roads can still be dangerous. We'll probably wait until the snow leaves.

We always do something.

Today? We're headed over to my friend's house. She's a marine biologist who's going to show me how to pick chanterelles. I have had a burning interest in mycology for years, but never took the time to get going on it. Then we're headed over to Facets, a gem store to look at rocks. Mi'ita just did a rock report for the 4th grade class we visit Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. She did a good speech on obsidian--well planned, well researched, well organized, well delivered. I'm proud. I'm hoping we get a video watched today about Alexander the Great, too.

I am not interested in rocks, but will go to Facets if she goes mushroom picking with me. She's not interested in mycology, but will go if I take her to Facets afterwards.

It's a done deal, bear!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

More research

I've been back to the HSLDA, Home School Legal Defense Association, to find more information. I've been wondering whether I've chosen the right homeschool method. Freeschooling feels so loosey goosey, and I was so entranced with the classic method based on the ancient Greeks--Plato, Socrates, Aristotle. I figured if if worked for Alexander the Great, it should work for Mi'ita the Magnificent, too.

Mi'ita hated the classical method and I knew I would be cramming education down her unwilling throat if I stuck with that. So we shifted to freeschooling which fits her personality much better, but does not feed my need to be anal retentive.

I've seen tons of articles on the different methods of homeschooling, but no research comparing their long term academic effectiveness. I'm a little focused on academic effectiveness. I went back to the Progress Report 2009: Homeschool Academic Achievement and Demographics to look further (I found a prettier, easier to read format.) Perhaps they had something more that I missed, and lo and behold, look what I found!

"The study considered the many approaches that homeschoolers take to education—and found hardly any difference, less than .5% of variance, in achievement based on the following variables:

•Degree of structure (ranging from very unstructured approaches such as delight- directed learning or eclectic teaching approaches to very structured, preplanned, and prescribed approaches),

• Amount of time spent per day in parent- directed learning activities, and

•Enrollment in a full-service curriculum (one that furnishes a year’s worth of textbooks, lesson plans, evaluations, counseling, and record-keeping in all core subjects)."

What a wonderful thing! Finding a homeschool method that works for you and your kid(s) is the ticket. There is no one method that is the creme de la creme.

Does that mean that we can toss everything to the wind and go swimming every day if that's what they want to do and they would get just as good an education as those whose mamas keep their nose in a book 12 hours a day?

Perhaps, but that one scares me. It looks like freeschooling is just as good as classical for my kid, though. For that matter, buying textbooks and doing a canned curriculum is just as effective, too. And now that I have the research behind me, I have fed my need to be anal retentive.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Finally, finally, finally some science!

I have been waiting impatiently for Mi'ita to turn to science. We have been saturated in history since August! I like history, don't get me wrong. I would be sad if she were so interested in science that she ignored history. But I've been worried.

This morning I gave up my hands off approach to science. Freeschooling is supposed to force feed only the basics of math, reading, and writing. All else is interest driven. I've been suggesting this and that scientific activity all along, but so far her interests led her to history.

Today I pulled out Usborne's How Nature Works and said that we really need to do a little science. She was finally nonresistant and we sat down and "looked for good experiments." Of course the experiment that she was interested in was getting a pet turtle. We headed over to the Wee Beasties reptiles pet store and talked to Brenda the herpetologist for a good hour about turtles and tortoises. We finally decided it wouldn't be a good pet for us, but we learned a ton and a half. Did you know that Darwin got a tortoise in the Galapagos Islands named Harriet that just recently died, over 200 years old? Apparently they don't really get old, like we do. They die of other things, but not old age.

After the herpetologist, we had some down time and I found her nose deep in How Nature Works again, learning about skeletons. I pulled out a pamphlet about fossils on Oregon beaches and we headed down to the beach to look for fossils. We looked at a lot of rocks, I read the pamphlet out loud while she built a sand castle, and we found a rock that some tube worms had burrowed in, but no fossils. Found some bivalve and gastropod shells, though, and talked about that.

Bedtime story tonight I gave her the choice of a science book and a history book. She chose a different science book about snakes. Now she has her hopes set on a pet corn snake.

I am so relieved that science has made a comeback.

A slap in the face to teachers

I have to tell you right off the bat that I admire teachers hugely. I was a teacher for 13 years and know the system from the inside. Almost all teachers that I have known over the years are well educated, care about their students tremendously, spend money from their own pockets for materials for their students, work long hours, and are just really nice people. They are working from the heart and doing the best job they know how to do. I can count the number of teachers I have met over the years who don't fit that stereotype on one hand with fingers left over. Seriously.

That said, I've been reading some information from HSLDA, Home School Legal Defense Association. They have done research studies on the academic achievement of homeschoolers over the years. The latest one, Progress Report 2009: Homeschool Academic Achievement and Demographics, had some really interesting statistics. Mostly it says that homeschoolers out-perform public and private school educated students by leaps and bounds. The average performance of public school students in the major academic areas is 50% (duh) and for homeschoolers it's in the mid 80's. That's pretty significant.

The study goes on to break down the achievement by race, educational level of parents, how much money is spent on homeschooling, etc. Most of those statistics are pretty consistent across the board. For example, people who spend over $600 per year are only 3 points higher than people who spend less (89th% to 86th%.) Interestingly, homeschooled minorities score very similarly to whitebread folks, but they languish horribly in public schools.

The most interesting statistic for me was whether one of the parents was a certified teacher or not. Being a certified teacher, so many people say that it should be easier for me because "I know what I'm doing." Makes sense. I've done it before. 24% of homeschoolers are educated by a certified parent. I guess we feel more confident that we can do it. What is fascinating, though, is that students of parents who are NOT certified teachers outperform those whose parent are certified teachers!


It's not by much. Certified parents hit 87% and non certified parents are 88%. I don't even know if that is statistically significant (statisticians reading this, please comment!)

That is why I said that this is a slap in the face for teachers. Oh my.

My thoughts? I think it has to do more with the way teachers are educated themselves. In college, we learn educational theory, human development, and more than you'd ever want to know about racism and minority students (minority students languish horribly in public schools, remember?) We learn very little about how actually to teach. School librarians (as I was) get a little more practical in that we are taught how to run a library and teach library skills. I actually think my school librarian courses were better preparation than my regular ed classes.

And I think that teaching is an art. It takes talent. You can certainly learn and get better at it, but it is not really something that you can study, so much. That's why non-certified parents are just as good at it as teachers.

I am grasping here. I don't really know. At least I can say we are on par.

My husband is a better parent than I am. I thought I would be because I had read so much about childhood development and parenting, and I have been in the field so long. Before I was a teacher I was a nanny and preschool teacher. But he is better--more patient, more logical, more consistent, gets better cooperation. He's good. And he's an engineer that works with computers and boats all day.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Party, homeschool style: The Dead

Photos from our fabulous Halloween Party. Our unsuspecting invitees learned a lot about the Celtic, Greek, Egyptian, and Mayan traditions and beliefs about death.

I don't seem to be able to make the pictures match up with captions nor get them in any kind of order, so you'll have to figure it out.

We made four corners of our house, each set up to explain the four different traditions. We made poster sized pictures of the different gods from each regions: Persephone and Hades; Osiris, Isis, and Anubis; Michtlantecutli; and Morganne. Mi'ita wrote up explanations of the gods, legends that accompanied them, descriptions of their beliefs in the afterlife, and other such. When possible, we added pictures or objects. We made the most hideous papermache Cerberus that I have ever seen. We spent two weeks on it and all I can say is that it's finished and does indeed have three heads.

I built an ofrenda for El Dia de los Muertos, my favorite of the cultures. Every year I set up an ofrenda, a table filled with pictures of our dead family members (and cats) with candles, skulls, papel picado, flowers, butterflies, and other symbols of the tradition or objects important to our loved ones. We made luminarias, too, and set them outside with our pumpkins. (We also carved a turnip, which is what they do in Ireland, not pumpkins.) I made sugar skulls for the children, too, and they got to write their names on them in icing and decorate them.

I served dishes from the four traditions we were studying: pomegranates from the Greek legend of Hades and Persephone, humus and baklava from Egypt, pan de muertos from the Mexican Mayans, barmbrack from the Irish Celts. Barmbrack is a loaf of sweetbread with dried fruit baked with little trinkets inside. Each trinket means something and if you find a trinket in your slice, it prophesizes what you should expect in the next year. Mi'ita got the cloth, which means poverty. A coin means wealth, a button means that you'll never marry, a ring means you'll be the next to marry, etc. We also made jello red blood cells just to toss in some science.

We also made a full sized coffin out of cardboard just to toss in some fun.

Mi'ita had a great time at the party, as did all the other kids. I gave them a "quiz" at the end. I wrote up about 40 questions that our captions all over the house answered. We broke up into teams and each team had to go find out the answer to their question and then come back for another one. Mi'ita couldn't be on a team, since she knew all the answers, but she could assist by showing the teams where to find the answers. They did really well and enjoyed it! I thought it might bomb, but they kept coming back for more.

Unfortunately, trick-or-treating didn't go as well. Some kids stayed and trick-or-treated with us. Others went off to trick-or-treat with their families. Mi'ita was disappointed with who left and who stayed, nor could she agree with everyone else's consensus on where to go. So by 6:30 we left everyone else to their devices and came home with a teary girl. Too much sugar, too much party, too much stimulus, not enough flexibility.

Ah well. We accomplished what I wanted to accomplish: a huge amount of information about different cultures around the world, a taste of different foods, and fun.