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?