Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Rhythm

School years have rhythms.

In the seven schools all over Oregon I have worked in over the last 13 years, they have all had the same rhythm. First month, September, is all about procedures. How to sharpen your pencil, go to the bathroom, wash your hands for lunch, check out books from the library, fire drills, earthquake drills, emergency drills... Not that there is no learning going on, it's just secondary to learning how to function in this little community called a classroom.

From October to December it is a run through the holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, even at the high school level. Halloween is the study of skeletons, spiders, the human body. November studies fall, Pilgrims, early American history, and Native Americans. December is all about Santa (don't mention Jesus.) The months have holiday breaks in them that disrupt the flow of learning so that the learning has to center around the holidays. This is less evident at the higher levels, but still there.

From January to March the real learning occurs. No major holidays. No vacations. Sometimes you get your federally mandated standardized testing in there to muck things up, but even that usually only takes a week and the kids certainly don't get excited about it.

After Spring Break is a sprint to the end of the year. Anything that didn't get learned yet has to get done NOW! We haven't studied adjectives yet! Australia! Analogies! Cold deserts! The Mayans! On top of that are the end of the year festivities--field day, spring concerts, science fairs, sing-alongs. And on top of that you have a tired, cabin fevered, hormonal student body (throw the teachers in there, too) that CAN'T WAIT 'TIL SUMMER! Even if they are bored with summer a week in, it's the frenzy to get there. Trips to the principal's office increase, pranks, friendship dramas, fights. It's a wild and wooly time of year. The last week of school everyone just simply looses their heads.

Homeschooling is different, of course, but has the same kinds of rhythms, though muted. We are winding down, finishing up our books, thinking of what we can do when the books run out but the school year hasn't. The thoughts run towards summer--horse camp, OMSI science camp, theater camp, camping trips, relatives visiting, summer parties. The hormones are charged, the lack of other people about during the day rankles more, the arguing has either increased or is bothering me more, tempers flair, schoolwork is harder to produce.

I'm ready to do something different.

My friend who homeschooled said that they took the spring off and schooled summers instead. Another friend of mine said that his kids homeschooled year round, no holidays because everything was so fun or something.

We are taking the summer off, for sure, although all the camps going around have a good deal of learning in them. We have about a month of our math and Latin books left, but about two months of school to go. Since Mi'ita is considering going back to school in the fall, I'm considering hitting her official 4th grade math book to see if there is anything she needs to cover before 5th grade starts. And she can switch to Greek when Latin gives out or learn a bit of cursive that she has refused to learn all year. Or maybe I'll let her set up her own learning agenda.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

It's April 8th!

Mi'ita burst out of bed this morning saying, "It's April 8th!" My husband and I stared at her.

"Why is that a big deal?" he ventured.

"I get my candy today! And we get to go out for ice cream!"

Ahhhh. Remember when we got back from Vietnam and Thailand I said that we had been out to eat three meals a day and had ice cream and soda pop daily. I told Mi'ita that we would have nothing bad to eat for one month solid, kind of like a late (and shorter) Lent. We got back March 8th. I also told Mi'ita that if she exercised an hour a day every single day all month we would go out for a triple banana split sundae with all the toppings.

Yesterday Mi'ita actually exercised three hours--horseback riding, ballet, and swimming, and she got almost all her work done, too (she has to do double writing today because we missed that.) Although we did miss a couple days of exercise this month, she doubled up enough days that we are going out for our triple banana split sundae with all the toppings. God help us. Or her, that is. I'm not going to have one!

So how did this month go? Were we able to eat healthy for a month?

Nope. The United States is set up for failure in that regard. I laud Michelle Obama for her efforts to get our children healthy, but we are going to have to do some major structural and societal shifts to make it happen.

Our downfalls? Well...Mi'ita was invited to two birthday parties this month. I could have just said that she couldn't go, but I didn't. Could a kid go to a birthday party and not eat cake and ice cream? Nope. She ate. I didn't--adults have more leeway. Both times she came home with a sack of candy to boot. I confiscated the candy, promising she could have it on April 8th. One stash she found and ate on the sly. The other stash made it.

And Easter. Ever heard of Easter without jelly beans or chocolate bunnies? She actually had one, and was cranky about it. Our bunny hid cash inside of those eggs. She made a haul, too, with $30.86 that she hasn't spent yet but is dying to. I called the Easter Bunny and so no candy whatsoever, but he (she?) had pity on her and brought four eggs with peeps in them. Four peeps! Nothing else, though. But...she had friends over, two sets, that both brought their candy to share. I confiscated three bags of jellybeans for April 8th, but I know some candy got down her throat.

Three major sugar events in one month! We're doomed, all of us, and we will have to roll to hell because we'll be too fat to walk.

Was that it? Nope. There were the few days that we were on the road and had to eat out, probably 3 or 4 times this month. My husband has a hankering for desserts, too. He was mostly supportive, but figured that after dinner Jiffy muffins don't count. They may not be candy, but highly refined they are. And we had a new neighbor move in next door. To be neighborly, we made snickerdoodles to welcome him in. And some burned. So we ate them.

Snickerdoodles, Jiffy muffins, pizza, jellybeans, pinata candy, cake, ice cream, and M&M geography on occasion. And we were trying hard. Our children's lives revolve around getting candy.

That said, we ate very healthy for almost every meal. Salads, eggplant curry, lean elk meat, omelets without cheese, lots of fruits and vegetables. We actually went into the doctor last week (Mi'ita's eyes were bothering her) and she had lost weight. She was down 7 pounds from our pre-trip weight, and the same weight she was a year ago. Losing weight? I don't like the idea of children losing weight, really. If they have a weight problem, mostly they are encouraged to cease the weight gain until their height catches up to their weight unless they are severely obese, and Mi'ita is not. But we weren't trying to lose weight, and she still looks good and has lots of kid energy, so I guess it's fine.

So, today's April 8th. I gave her all her confiscated candy after breakfast. Three bags of jellybeans; two huge chocolate hearts; and a bag of gummy worms, cockroach clusters, sugar quills, and such. After lunch we'll go out for ice cream--a triple banana split sundae with all the toppings.

Should I make her eat them over several days or dole them out somehow? I'm experimenting. I think she will either get sick of it and stop naturally or get sick, literally. Maybe she'll learn something about eating too much candy. You hear all the time about how too much candy makes you sick, but it may not sink in until you get the full effects yourself.

Hang on! It's going to be a wild ride!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Time limits

Mi'ita gets distracted, especially when she is doing what she doesn't want to be doing. Since she is such a contrarian, anything I ask her to do is what she doesn't want to do (a good argument for unschooling if I have ever heard one.)

I could leave Mi'ita with three things to do (always math, Latin, and writing) which would take me less than an hour. Sometimes we sit together and do them and sometimes it indeed takes less than an hour. Sometimes I leave her to it and do my own thing, either by her request or because I have my own thing to do. And once again sometimes she gets it all done no problem. If she is feeling contrary though, which is often, she can diddle around and get nothing done forever. Read a book, work on some art, play with her legos, read Snopes (a very cool website that debunks urban legends), write in Greek, watch her new tadpole or old lizard, sneak onto her computer games...or just plain argue with me if I sit with her trying to get her to do it.

I try very hard not to get trapped into arguing with her. She can be downright rude, though, and I need to address that...which traps me into a discussion I didn't want to have. Argh!

I've taken to setting the timer. We agree on a time limit (less than what she wants, more than I think it should really take) and I set the timer. If she is not done with the assignment I double it. Sometimes. If she is working hard and is almost done, I give her five more minutes. If she is doodling on the edges of her math, I double it. She doesn't like it at all--I get more arguments out of her, but I don't need to talk at this point other than tell her that her time is ticking.

It works. She gets her three required subjects done in a day.

If I didn't have a husband with his own opinions, though, I'd be very tempted at this point to unschool. Yesterday I set her with her math, Latin, and writing to do while I did my yoga. When I came back she had spent two hours reading about Lewis and Clark from multiple sources on the web and typing up a report on them, including pictures and a bibliography. She didn't get her math or Latin done, but was I going to punish her for this? No, I simply let her finish working on her report and then started her on her math and Latin. Also, she has been working on a model kit of the Parthenon and learning Greek on the side. She hasn't had time to work on this because she diddles around when she is supposed to be doing math, Latin, and writing.

Is Latin more important than Greek? Of course not, but if she skips around and dabbles in language after language, she will never learn one well, right? So I said that she had to stick with one for two years, and she picked Latin herself! I question myself constantly on the logic of all this. I like to dabble around in languages myself, which is the study of linguistics rather than the study of a language.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Lots of Activities

Yeah! Mi'ita made the swim team!

She also got promoted in ballet, so she's doing ballet three days a week, will be doing swim practice twice a week, guitar once a week, and horseback riding lessons once every other week. There will also be swim meets on the weekend once in a while--maybe once a month? That's a lot. Twice a week she has two lessons during the day.

Next year Mi'ita is considering going back to school. A friend of hers is in a school play and she can't be in it because she's not in school, so she wants to go back. I don't know whether this desire to go back will last (I doubt it, but it's possible) and I'm okay with it if she does. I really think that kids who have some control over their own education have better buy in, so if she wants to go, off she goes.

I don't think she can do four lessons if she does go back, though. I don't think it would be good for her, it'd get exhausting. I don't think she's going to like the idea of dropping any of it. When homeschooling it's nice to have these lessons--gets her out of the house, gets to see other people, shakes up the routine a bit, they are all her choice and things she wants to do. With a full day of school it would be a different story. More of her life will be proscribed, and she'd have less time and energy for the extracurricular things that she wants to do. I can't imagine letting her be involved in all these things if she is in school full time. I'd make her quit some of it.

Homeschooling gives you more freedom to be involved in all those cool things out there.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Apple Fractions

A long time ago Mi'ita had a book called Apple Fractions. I don't remember much about it now other than a bunch of elves used ladders and saws to cut up different kinds of apples and they talked about the fraction the apple was cut into. When she was five or so she wanted to do it too, so we went to WinCo and bought one of every kind of apple they had and cut them into sections, following the book, talked about the fractions, and ate different kinds of apples. We had a taste test and decided what was her favorite type of apple (Golden Delicious.)

Every couple of years she has wants to do it again. She remembered about it earlier this week and wanted to do it again so we headed to Freddy's and bought one of every kind of apple they had and did it again. Being 10 now, giant daughter of mine, we added and subtracted the fractions, too, and wrote the problems down and found common denominators and such. We probably should have checked the book out of the library. They added details like what the numerator and denominator are called and such. I forget to add those things.

We did it with her friend D. who is on Spring Break and decided to hang out and homeschool with us yesterday. D. had an easier time of it than Mi'ita did. Interesting. I am used to Mi'ita being the quickest mind in the crowd. Our math programs that we have used this year are single minded. The first program (Singapore Math) focused exclusively on long multiplication, the second program (Math-U-See) focused exclusively on long division. Neither one of those worked with fractions at all. Math-U-See adds a little geometry in there and some measurement, but no fractions. Wait, I take that back. When you get to remainders (no decimals yet), you write your remainder as a fraction.

Anyway, after we taste tested and ranked the apples, D. and Mi'ita cut them up and made a pie with the rest. Home Economics. Yum!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring Break

Everyone in this neck of the woods is having Spring Break right now. We just got back from a month long vacation with a week of recovery afterwards and Spring Break just doesn't make sense for us. We need to get back to work--we are still catching up in our math concepts and Latin.

But everyone else is off, around, and ready to have fun with my only child that needs socialization.

Compromise. No one can come over before work is done for the day. Anyone that spends the night has to homeschool with us in the morning or be gone by 9 AM. Friday field trip is on Tuesday this week with an all day horse camp.

Today is our first trial. Mi'ita's friend C. spent the night last night. It is 8 AM and they are dressed and making waffles for breakfast. They have a list of assignments that they both have to do: two pages of math, one page of Latin, a writing assignment, cleaning out the lizard cage and feeding him, one hour of exercise (they want to walk down to the rope swing), and guitar lesson at noon. If they can get that all done, we'll go to the Alice and Wonderland showing at 2:30.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Physical Education

I read Michelle Obama in Newsweek last night, making her argument to feed our children well and to get moving. She had things to say about how our modern life style of driving kids to school, playing electronically instead of physically after school, and school lunches are leading to childhood obesity. Got me thinking about our PE program.

One of my motivations for homeschooling was better health. Our local schools are cutting down on recess and PE times. While our state has strict standards for food offered to children at school (only whole wheat flour used, maximum amount of total fat in the lunches, no sugar allowed...) children have free choice about what to eat among what's offered and they routinely skip the salad bar. I went head to head with the school principal this year, too. While no soda pop is allowed to be sold on school grounds during school hours, by anybody, the Booster Club is offering Italian sodas right after school lets out every Thursday. What? It is unhealthy for children to drink soda at 2:59 PM, but at 3:00 it's fine? I lost that one, but I my cranky voice was heard by a lot of people.

I have to say that Mi'ita is what I call "a baby giant." Last weekend I saw Mi'ita with her friend, T, who used to be about an inch shorter than her. Now Mi'ita is almost 6 inches taller than T. She is immense. Certainly not fat, but far from skinny. She's inherited my body (except in a giant size) and twice a week PE will not cut it.

So what do we do? Mi'ita has ballet twice per week, horseback riding lessons twice a month, bike riding with her dad once a week, and lots of walking. We walk everywhere, every day. In addition to that, we're trying to add the swim team, if she can pass her tryout in a week and a half. Wish her luck! That will round things out very nicely and she will have practice two hours a day three days a week.

And food? I try to cook with whole foods, there is a green vegetable with every dinner, and fruit is her snack option. We are far from perfect (while we were traveling, we were FAR from perfect) but I think her diet is better for staying at home.

That said, she does not have regular eating times. We are at home and she has snacks and lunch when she's hungry. When she's growing it seems like she eats constantly. If I buy those cutie oranges in the store, five pounds will go down her gullet in a couple days. Sometimes I wonder if I should regulate how much and how often she eats instead of just what she eats. I've been thinking hard on that because I think she does eat when she's bored or more likely just because she likes the taste of something, not because she's hungry. Opinions?

Also, she is a sedentary child by nature. She likes to read and she reads constantly. I don't let her watch TV on school days (except educational programs) and her computer time is only school related. But how can I tell her to put her book down and go out to play? There is very little out there for kids to do. She is an only child in a neighborhood where if you look out the window on a school day, there is no one out there riding a bike or roller skating or playing jacks. She won't go out by herself. If we invite kids over (which we do regularly) she plays, but otherwise she is reading a book.

I don't know if Michelle would approve. I'm trying, though.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Greek Obsession

Mia's obsessed with Greece. We started studying ancient Greek history at the beginning of the year and my friend turned her on to D'aulaire's Book of Greek Myths. She has memorized the book, and now Percy Jackson's series is keeping her hooked. Anything about Greek gods, goddesses, temples, etc, etc, etc.

She has decided to start studying Greek. My Lord. We're already doing Latin. Latin and Greek? What is she going to turn into, a classics scholar? Luckily the Latin program we use, Latin for Children, also teaches Greek because I don't know any. It's on backorder, actually, so we're starting with a program that teaches the Greek alphabet, the Greek Alphabet Code Cracker. This is the fifth language she's dabbled in this year. Why not?

And then...science fair time. What would a girl obsessed with Greece do for the science fair? A model of the Parthenon, of course. We've got a kit on order and she's starting to write some information to go with it. Architecture is science, right? John says not really. We'll have to see what we can do to morph it. This is my first science fair project attempt in my life. I never did it as a kid and I've never helped a kid with it.

I was starting to go insane trying to get her interested in writing. It's her weakest area and she resists it intensely. But if she's writing about the Parthenon for her science fair project, she's all over it.

She's not interested in my cooking from other cultures, either. Except Greek food. We're having falafels tomorrow and shish kabobs the day after.

She'd like to travel to Greece next. That's on the long term agenda.

The wonderful thing about homeschooling is that you can run with something like this.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Back to the books

We're easing back into the books. Jetlag is doing both of us a number, but more so for me. Come noon I feel like I've been poleaxed and need to sleep for several hours. Mia doesn't need to nap, but she's been very irregular in her sleeping schedule.

While we were gone, the only math I had Mia do was figuring out money. I figured that converting dollars to dongs, dollars to bahts, and dongs to bahts was enough math for anyone. She had an allowance to spend, figured in dollars and then converted, and she was always helping me figure out how much things cost. I had a cheat sheet that was absolutely necessary for me, but Mia could often figure things out without it.

Yesterday I had her review her Latin flashcards and do some long division. Today I had her take a math test to see how much math she had forgotten.

She knows how to do long division, our current lessons. She has forgotten how to do long multiplication, which is required to check her long division. She had 18 problems to do and it took over an hour. She has some catching up to do, for sure. Tomorrow we'll review long multiplication. I don't think it will take long for her to get back up to speed.

We need to do some writing, too. I've never really taught writing before and I feel like I've been floundering a bit. Yes, I can require her to write, get her to do a cohesive paragraph about some topic, and help her edit her work. I don't really feel like that's enough, though. This trip has been eye opening in that area. The two boys that were on the tour with us had to write journal logs, too. One was a year older and one was a year younger and both of them were vastly superior in their writing abilities. I listened to their parents working with them. They required quite a bit more from them--more volume of work, more variety of writing styles, better vocabulary usage, etc. I pumped up my expectations for Mia in response to that and got nowhere really fast. She mutinied. We ended up eliminating the journal entries in favor of daily emails to her father. That was vastly more popular, but not as easy as it sounds. Computers were not always available and we had not a few computer problems on the way.

Needless to say, we need to get back to writing. I had bought a writing curriculum way back when we first started homeschooling, but had abandoned it when we stopped the classical method in favor of freeschooling. During our musing for our mission statement, writing came back as an essential skill that needs to be a part of our curriculum. The Daddy required Mia to read two newspaper articles a week and do a summary of them. I required Mia to do journal entries on the other days. The articles and summaries are still good skills. I want to continue that. I think the journal writing isn't enough, though. I'm sticking Mia back into that writing curriculum today to see how that works.

But we'll skip Latin today. We're just easing back into the swing of things.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cu Chi Tunnels

I wanted Mia to learn about Vietnam before we went. She was very resistant, so I didn't make her. I figured that maybe during our travels something would peak her interest and she would learn after she got home. I especially wanted her to learn about the Vietnam War (they call it the American War there.) She had no interest.

Then we went to the Cu Chi Tunnels near Saigon (the city has been officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City, but all the Vietnamese I talked to still called it Saigon.) It is a historic site they have preserved for education. The Cu Chi Tunnels were a tunnel system used by the Viet Cong during the war. Because of Agent Orange, Napalm, and the continuous bombing, it became impossible to liv
e on the surface of the earth in that little part of the world, so they moved underground. Whole villages with women, children, old folks, and soldiers all lived underground. They had underground kitchens, wells, barracks and living quarters, safe rooms, and escape routes. That particular system had 250 kilometers of tunnels that went into Cambodia, under American military bases, and had escape routes into the Mekong River. They shoveled the excess earth into the river so that they would not leave hills of earth to give them away. They used bamboo to create ventilation systems. They had three levels of tunnels. The first had the best air and they lived in them. The second level was for moving down to a safe level if invaded, and the third level were the escape tunnels. According to our guide, the Cu Chi tunnels were just one of many tunnel systems that spread all over Vietnam.

Mia was initially interested in seeing them because you could go down and crawl around in tunnels. How cool is that? I had heard about the tunnels during my own study of the Vietnam War, but I had no idea. All our minds were blown.

They had a film they showed us before we went on the tour. It was made in 1967 and there was no white washing or political correctness. The American soldiers were referred to as "the enemy" and were talked about as being ruthless beasts that killed women, children, and old people. They showed a sweet class of Vietnamese kindergartners while talking about this. The Vietnamese soldiers were all brave and strangely beautiful. I say strangely beautiful because almost all the soldiers I saw in the film were lovely young women. I asked my Vietnamese guide about that and he said that during the war there was no difference between men and women. Everyone was a soldier and fought. They talked about one woman who had been injured as a young girl in a bombing and so dedicated her whole life to killing Americans. The film ended with a surreal scene of these beautiful women soldiers doing a traditional dance in their army fatigues.

Mia was horrified. The Vietnamese got awards for killing Americans?

It got worse for her. After the movie we went to another section of the site that showed the different booby traps built by the Vietnamese to protect themselves. They were simple mechanical traps, adapted from the hunting traps they used for killing tigers. There were pit traps that swung on a hinge and had spiked bamboo on the bottom. There were 6 different types of foot traps that had bamboo spikes for stabbing the unfortunate person's foot or leg to disable them. There were door traps that would swing down and slash a person who was trying to enter a house. They were all simple designs using the materials easily found in the jungle, elegant even, but vicious, invisible, and deadly. My mother added that the spikes were often dipped into excrement in order to infect wounds. Those booby traps surrounded villages, homes, and were all over the tunnels.

The tunnels themselves were amazing. They had to seriously expand them to make them big enough for Western sized bodies. There was a small section we could go into and crawl around to see, but most of us were too claustrophobic to get far. One of the tools the Vietnamese used for this type of fighting was their body size. I am 5'4" and was taller than most Vietnamese people I saw during my travels. I counted two women in my entire time there that were taller than me, and only about half the men were taller than me and not by much. (The Thai and Japanese people I saw on my travels were much bigger, to give you an idea of how small these people were.) Their bone structure is tiny, too. Add this to the fact that there were food shortages throughout most of the war and you have little, little people. They used this to their advantage by making little, little tunnels. The entrances were tiny. A full sized Vietnamese man had to wiggle in with his arms over his head to squeeze in. None of the American, Canadian, or Brittish people in our group was small enough to get in except the children. On the bottom level of their tunnels, the escape routes, they routinely put in smaller sections, like girdles, to keep out the chasing enemy soldiers. Think of a rabbit disappearing into it's burrow. A fox had to dig its way in and by then the rabbit was far away.

Mia had a hard time with this whole display. She kept picturing in her mind the men in her family that she knew who had been in the military (like her father) getting trapped by these booby traps, shot at, called "ruthless beasts." It was not an easy place to be American. I had to explain that the Vietnamese were fighting for their freedom, that this was their Revolutionary War. These people were protecting their homes and their families. They didn't bring the war to us; they were the ones invaded.

There is so much out there about the brutality of the Americans against the Vietnamese during the war. The soldiers were called baby killers by their civilian peers when they got home. This experience at the Cu Chi Tunnels wasn't what I would have chosen as Mia's entrance into that part of our history, but it was really eye opening. How can you vilify soldiers for killing women and children when anyone in a Viet Cong family could be a soldier--the wife, the husband, the children, the uncles, the aunts, the grandparents?

Ho Chi Minh told his people that if they lost the war, they lost nothing. If they won it, they won everything. They were fighting for their independence, their liberty, freedom from foreign rule. They believed in what they were doing.

It will be interesting how Mia applies this experience to her future studies of the Vietnam War.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Communism in Viet Nam

I didn't have any idea what to expect when traveling in a communist country. It's good, because none of my stereotypes about communism have born up. Perhaps they would elsewhere, but not here.

I've never been virolently anti-communist, nor pro-communist. I've always considered it just another form of government with its own set of good points and bad. Certainly capitalism has its faults and as much as I love my country, I don't think it's the best in the world. A good place to live for many people, certainly, but not all.

First of all, people own their own houses and businesses and motorbikes. There is definitely a rich class here, as well as poorer people. Unlike the states, there aren't homeless people here. Our guide was saying that it is not communism but the culture. If you have family, you have a home. A family would never, ever leave one of their own to sleep on the street or starve.

There are some huge gorgeous French colonial homes here, multimillion dollars in the states. I asked my guide and he said that a family of four lives in them. Most of the homes I have seen are from two to four stories high, with the bottom one or two floors devoted to a family business, like a store or restaurant. They are row houses, long and skinny, with lovely French colonial fronts and backs, and no sides. When we were on the bay, we saw floating houses that were very simple, and some of the boat houses we've seen on the river in Hue were extremely modest. There definitly are richer and more humble people here.

I've only seen one person beg. I've seen no one that looks underfed or injured or in need of medical care. The one handicapped person I saw had a job and was obviously respected by his colleagues in the store he worked in. Medical care is free. I don't know how good it is as I've thankfully not needed it, but it is free for everyone.

My mother was in China twenty years ago and there was one style of bicycle in one color that everyone rode. Here there are hundreds of styles of motorbikes, from old and clanky to very fine, and the cars I've seen have all been luxury models.

Our guide here volunteers on a regular basis for forest restoration, in orphanages, and in hospitals. I thought it must be at least semi-compulsary, but no. He says that he is unusual and most people don't. He doesn't have a family and doesn't know what to do with his free time, so he volunteers.

People here are encouraged to have small families, "One or two for better care." There are no penalties, though, if you choose to have a bigger family. This is a newer policy. Our guide, in his early thirties, was one of four children, and his father is one of nine.

There is only one political party allowed, the Communist Party of Viet Nam. They have elections every four years and while there are more than one candidate, they are all part of the same party. Our guide says he does not bother to vote because "it doesn't matter who wins."

Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum is venerated. We went to an old king's resort complex and effigy yesterday. While it was not venerated to the same extent, it was protected and open to the public. The old royal complex in Hue is also protected and a popular tourist destination for both Vietnamese and foreigners. Much of it was destroyed in the wars with the French and Americans, and they are rebuilding the old complex, to be opened in 2020. The Thai royal family has built a temple in the complex in honor of the last royal dynasty. There is a movement to protect the history of Viet Nam, even if it does not conform to current ideology.

Disparaging comments about the government are not allowed, and religions are controlled. It used to be an athiest country, I believe, but now certain religions are allowed but not all. Most people are Buddhist, Confuscians, Taoist, or Catholic. There are other religions allowed, but one was working against the government and is now heavily controlled but not completely disallowed, I don't think.

There are Vietnamese flags everywhere, often alongside the communist flag. They just celebrated 80 years of communism on Feb. 3rd, so it may be just part of the celebration. I don't know. They are quite beautiful.

It's a very interesting experience, learning about communism here. Our guide says it's not true communism, more like socialism, and he says the hearts of the Vietnamese are not really communist.

The government is, though.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ho Chi Minh and the war

We went to see Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum yesterday. It was an experience that I will never forget. Such ceremony and honor!

The Vietnamese Communist Party venerate Ho Chi Minh and his picture is on every single domination of their money, the Dong. His mausoleum is protected by a great number of men and women (soldiers?) in elegant white uniforms. His mausoleum was built in the Russian style with their help and is a dominating stepped block of gray stone, flanked on the left side with a row of communist flags, red with the yellow sickle in the middle, and on the right side a row of Vietnamese flags, red with a yellow star in the middle. It is impressive.

Everyone must pass through security to go to see Ho Chi Minh. There is a fabulous sign in several languages that insists that people need to wear "serious costumes." A woman came down the row of people waiting to go inside and checked our "costumes." I almost didn't get in. I was wearing a sleeveless shirt, a modest one, but sleeveless. A wonderful Australian woman behind me came to my rescue with a white blouse she let me borrow. No cameras were allowed and no purses, backpacks, or other baggage. Our guide held our things for us, but there was a place to check such things otherwise.

Two by two we filed in to the mausoleum, passing many soldiers that checked that we were following other signs of respect. We weren't allowed to speak once we were inside. Our hands were to be at our sides.

Ho Chi Minh's body is still being displayed. He died in '69, the year I was born, in the midst of the Vietnam War (they call it the American War here.) Our guide said that President Ho wished to be cremated and buried in three different locations, in the north, central, and south of Viet Nam. Unfortunately, they weren't able to honor those wishes because of the war, so they decided to preserve his body instead. The Russians had the technology to do this and helped the Vietnamese. He is kept underground at a certain temperature for most of the day and only brought up for display for a few hours in the morning. One month of a year he is taken off display to have maintenance done. It used to be done in Russia, but the Russians shared their expertise and now the Vietnamese do it themselves.

He looks like he died yesterday.

The mausoleum is a complex of buildings. One is the presidential palace, a beautiful yellow stone French colonial building that our guide called "The Yellow House" that no president lives in. It is for visiting dignitaries. Ho Chi Minh's house is in the complex, too. It is a simple wooden house on stilts, two rooms above, a bedroom and study, and a open air dining room under the stilts. It is also guarded with soldiers in white uniforms and has been lovingly cared for.

Our guide, Ha, told us a story for our amusement about one visiting dignitary that stayed in the "Yellow House." It was a certain President George W. Bush who visited a couple years ago. Apparently he wanted to bring 2000 body guards! There wasn't enough room to accomodate all of them, so they negotiated down to 700. Then, at some point President Bush wanted to go somewhere (I forget where, but it was only a few blocks away.) Any other president, apparently, would have just walked. But no, George W. needed to have a car and an escort and it turned into a parade.

Ah, to be the laughing stock of the world.

After we went to the mausoleum, we went to a Military Museum for the American War. It was a simple museum, not large, with an assortment of helicopters, tanks, destroyed airplanes, and the like on the outside. Inside they showed a movie about the war in English. I've seen so many showing the American perspective that it was fascinating to see the Vietnamese perspective. Apparently, the Vietnamese are very proud of their ability to fend off larger enemies. I've heard it described as a "David and Goliath" syndrome. They fought off China for a thousand years, fought for their independence from France, and then defeated the mighty Americans. They are very proud of themselves.

There was one item on display that I had a visceral reaction to. I am not a paint me red white and blue patriot. I am not terribly proud of my government and their policies, especially recent ones. But I do love my country. It is my home.

They had a captured American flag on display. It was a simple exhibit in the corner of the museum, of all the flags of the "puppet" South Vietnamese government. Among those was an American flag they had captured during some battle during the war.

I wanted to take down that flag, stuff it under my shirt, and take it home with me. (I didn't, of course.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

First Impressions of Viet Nam

Good morning, Viet Nam!

I've been here for almost 24 hours, so now I'm an expert, right? I've been to exactly two official places--the airport and our hotel somewhere in Hanoi. I have no idea where. I've been shopping down the streets a bit, saw the lake, and had dinner out.

Quick Takes:

1. Motorcycles and motor scooters! They are the transportation mode of choice, by far, and the streets here are teeming with them. Some are rusted ancient relics that look heavy as sin, but many are fancy brand new and sleek. Most people wear helmets, but not all. About half are driven by single drivers with nothing on them, and the other half have me oggling! I've seen tiny babies propped up in front of their mothers, families of four, and lots of doubled up friends. Mattresses, huge boxes, desks, and mounds of flowers as wide as a car are strapped on any old way. Almost anything you would stick in the trunk of your car is perched about the driver or tied on. It is mind boggling.

2. Western dress. I have no idea what the traditional Vietnamese dress is called, the loose silk pants and long sleeved shirt that goes down past the knee but is split up to the waist. I've seen them, but mostly in my own hotel as a show for tourists, I think. The Vietnamese on the street would blend in just fine on any street in the US. Anything from jeans and T-shirts to tight skirts and heels, with a few business suits thrown in. Since our country is to diverse, take almost any Vietnamese person I've seen today and stick him in downtown Portland, and you couldn't pick him out. Hair styles, too. The only thing I've really seen as different is that the women seem much more inclined to wear high heels.

3. Orange trees. We're going to be here for Tet, the New Year festival, the biggest celebration in Vietnam! I think it starts on Valentine's Day, but I'm not sure yet. Wow! Orange trees and cherry tree branches are the traditional decoration, set up like Christmas trees in your house and decorated with red and gold ornaments that say things on them. I haven't figured out what, yet, but I assume things like "Long life and prosperity." Those orange trees, six feet tall and more, are strapped onto the back of motorcycles to be taken home! It's like the week before Christmas with people strapping trees onto the roof of their cars, except these potted orange trees are on mopeds!

4. Chubby babies. I really thought I'd look like an elephant here, taller and fatter than the average Vietnamese gal on the street. I am taller and fatter than all the gals here, but I am amazed that I'm not as huge as I thought I'd feel. Yes, many of the adult women here are the size of a skinny 5th grader in America, but I've seen chubby people here! And tall people, too. Some of the babies look downright fat! I think the nutrition must be improving to the point where they need to worry about overweight children. It's certainly not the epidemic we have in the US, but there are chubby kids here. Adults, too.

5. Conical hats, double baskets. While motorcylces and scooters dominate the scene here, there are lots of bicycles, too. Most of them are ancient things that you would pay big money for in the states because they are "retro." These old bicycles are mostly driven by old folks that wear those conical straw hats you see in the movies. I love it. I'm sure you've seen in those same movies that long pole with two baskets, one tied on each side, held on the shoulder. Woof! They look heavy. Mostly they carried by women, selling anything from fruit to toys. The loveliest thing by far is a portable restaurant. In one basket is a metal cookstove. The other basket has all the ingredients you need to cook something. These ladies sit down on the sidewalk and set up their restaurant wherever there's a spot. Very cool.

6. Short chairs. If you go into a fancy restaurant or hotel, you get normal sized Western chairs. If you go into a street vendor's stall, you get a tiny plastic chair about a foot high and 6 inches square to sit on.

7. Architecture. Mi'ita and I both said that it looks like Mexico out there. The buildings are old colonial French instead of Spanish, but it's similar.

8. Warning. I have been warned many times not to criticize anything or I may find myself deported or put in jail. Thankfully I haven't found a thing to criticize yet, but I will need to muzzle myself. I have the subtlety of an ox.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

SE Asia

We're leaving for a monthlong trip to Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand tomorrow. It will be Mi'ita, my mother, and I, taking a GAP tour, then visiting my uncle in Thailand who will be showing us around. He married a Thai woman and has lived there off and on for probably 20 years. Mi'ita and I have been trying to learn some Vietnamese for the trip. I must say, I was better at Swahili. (We originally planned on going to Tanzania on Safari, but canceled that trip due to dangerous political conditions.)

My goals for this trip:

1. I hope we all have some fun. I hope my mother enjoys it, especially, and I hope Mi'ita and I don't drive her batty (or vice versa.)

2. Mi'ita and I have already learned a bit about the linguistics of Asian languages--tonal rather than syllabic, lack of articles, formal address for different types of people, etc. I hope we will learn some more.

3. My mother was a young woman during the Vietnam War. She never went, but knew many people who did, and the war was huge for that generation of Americans. I hope that she puts some of her own demons to rest, and I hope that Mi'ita and I learn some about that period of American (and Vietnamese) history.

4. Money! Oh my Lord, it is hard for me to convert dollars to dongs, bahts, euros, or pesos. It will be good math, and I hope Mi'ita is better at it than I am.

5. How to travel. Whether she enjoys traveling or not is of no consequence to me. I hope she learns how to do it well, though. Packing for it, navigating airports, getting along with fellow travelers, figuring out maps and train schedules, learning enough of the local language to get along, bartering at markets, enduring a bit of discomfort, how to be safe from diseases and accidents and "bad guys."

6. Politics. Husband was doing military intelligence during the Cold War, and has definite negative views about communism. I am hoping that she will learn how communism works from the ground (and be less negative herself. After all, capitalism has it's own list of problems.) Also, Thailand is much like England in which they have a mostly figurehead monarchy and a ruling parliament. Unlike England, you can be jailed for even saying something disparaging of the royal family. They are also expected to have a coup attempt while we are there, which my uncle assures us will not be violent. He's lived through 4 or 5 himself. If that's not a crash course on political systems, I don't know what is!

7. I won't be making Mi'ita do any actual academic work while we're there. It's going to be a tremendous education in itself. I will be making her keep a daily journal.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Inservice Days

I have fought Inservice Days all year.

Why should homeschoolers have these odd days off? There is no reason why Mi'ita should take February 1st off. I would like to make her work it.

None of her friends have to go to school tomorrow. When that happens she invariably wants them to come over and play. Important for socialization, don't you think? Especially for an only child.

I'd like to make her work in the morning, get her work done, then invite a friend over.

She has a friend over tonight, though, and the house is a complete disaster from her weekend birthday party, and we have to go to the library in the afternoon. Doesn't leave a whole lot of room for math.

Maybe I'll make her do some math after her friend goes home, do some home economics house cleaning, go to the library in the afternoon, and call the rest a draw. Or better yet, make her write thank you notes for her gifts.

Ugh. If we had no connection to the local public school, it wouldn't be an issue. It's Monday. We work on Mondays. Get to work!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


The women in my grandmother's generation had their children during the Depression and WWII. They all expected to get married, stay at home, and have babies. Most of my own grandmothers were farmwives and expected to grow their own vegetables, can their own vegetables, bake their own bread, cook three hot meals a day, clean, sew their own clothes, and do the laundry with a wringer and a clothesline. It was a very big job back then. Motherhood was full time work, and watching the kids was only a small part of what you did.

My mother's generation grew up in the 50's. Domestic chores were definitely easier, but there was still the expectation that women would get married, have babies, and stay at home. If you wanted or needed a job, women could be secretaries, waitresses, flight attendants, teachers, or nurses. Pick one.

My mother and stepmother were both in their early 30's by the time the women's movement hit. They had already gotten married, had their babies, and were teachers. While the women's movement certainly changed the way they thought and the opportunities they had, they were already mid-stream in the rivers of their lives.

They taught their daughters, though. My generation grew up in the midst of the women's movement and I was taught, explicitly and vociferously, that women could be anything they set their minds to. We may have only had male doctors and female nurses growing up, but we were told that we could be doctors or lawyers or the president of the United States! So go do it!

That's the kicker, though. I did the career thing for 13 years, but I'm a stay at home mom right now, by choice. I was raised by two women's-movement-generation mothers who told me to do anything that I wanted to do! I certainly wasn't planning on being a stay at home mother. If I had said that I wanted to be a stay at home mom when I was young, I would have been sat down for a good long lecture.

My question is, if it is perfectly accepted by my mother's generation for me to be a paid teacher in a school, is it not acceptable to be an unpaid teacher in a house? Is getting a paycheck for tutoring a child more acceptable than not getting a paycheck for tutoring my own daughter? Is it the money?

Because I don't need the money. My husband makes plenty for all of us, even if we don't have the funds for yearly trips to Europe. When I was a teacher, I didn't even know what my salary was. It was a non-issue. If my husband, God help me, disappears tomorrow, I could go back to work and support my small family. My education is still there, my credentials and references.

If it's not the salary, what is it?

Thursday, January 21, 2010


How many do you know?


I would say that more than half of the kids in all of Mi'ita's classes to date have been labeled as something or other. Most of those kids have a pull out program--they leave the class and join a small group or even have one on one with a specialist every day or three times a week or once a week. Regular classroom teachers of these students are responsible for tailoring their regular classroom curriculum to each kid's need, too. So, if you have 30 kids in the class, most likely you have at least 15 different modifications you need to do for each lesson.

It's called differentiated curriculum. If a teacher doesn't differentiate their curriculum to meet the needs of these protected children, they are liable.

Mi'ita actually is TAG and I was concerned for years that she wasn't getting her needs met in school. I would say that many of her 2nd grade year's worth of problems were directly related to the fact that she wasn't getting her needs met. Of course, she wasn't labeled yet, so I couldn't hold her teacher accountable... Nor would I have. I was a teacher myself and see the horrendous burden it is to expect one teacher to meet the needs of every individual kid in their class.

I have one kid to teach. I tailor her education directly to her needs, and that's all.

Definitions, off the top of my head:

IEP: Individual Education Plan--Students performing below level, but not diagnosed with a medical condition. Requirements lowered.

ESOL, ESL: English to Speakers of Other Languages, English as a Second Language--Students who speak another language at home and are not fluent in academic English

TAG, GAPE: Talented and Gifted, ?--Students who perform above the intellectual level of their grade level peers

Title I: Students who are below level in Reading and/or Math and need extra help to boost them to be at grade level, but do not have a diagnosed medical condition

SpEd: Special Education-- Students with a diagnosed medical condition that affects their cognition

BD: Behavior Disorder--Students who are extremely disruptive in the school setting and require intervention

AMD: Anger Management Disorder

ADD, ADHD: Attention Deficit Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder--Students who have trouble concentrating, with or without a hyperactive component

ODD: Oppositional Defiance Disorder--Students who do not respect authority (extreme, usually violent)

504: Students who have a diagnosed medical condition that does not effect their cognition, but the teacher needs to be aware of their condition for health and safety reasons

SL: Speech/Language--Students who need help with the mechanics of speaking, or who do not hear well

MR: Mental Retardation

ASD: Autism Spectral Disorder


I've read half a dozen How To Homeschool books now and all of them have a section devoted to how to deal with criticism.

Interesting, since I've never had a single person criticize my decision. I've had a few people ask pointed questions. I've had people say that they could never do it for a variety of reasons. I've had people politely change the subject with a frown in their eyes. I've had people say that since I was a teacher, I would do it right, unlike X person who homeschools and just lets their kids play all day. But I haven't had a single person say that I shouldn't do it or any variation thereof.

My mother substituted for me this last week since I was down with a bum hip and couldn't walk. She made a lovely plant book with Mi'ita that organizes leaves into palmated, smooth edged, lobed, etc. with a section on seeds. She taught fractions instead of doing our Math U See program. She gave up early on Latin because she doesn't know any, but gamely did the Vietnamese DVD with Mi'ita. She was a godsend. I literally couldn't do a single thing for myself that week and would have died without her. Thank God for mothers. Especially mine.

At the end of our week, we sat down and she asked me if I wanted some frank feedback about homeschooling. My mother was a teacher for 100 years, has won many awards for her teaching including Washington State Science Teacher of the Year, and has raised two children herself. I was very interested in getting some feedback from her.

She wasn't worried about socialization. She could see how much Mi'ita saw her friends with playdates and ballet. She said that mostly at school you are supposed to sit and do your own work and not talk to your friends.

She was a little concerned with how much grammar Mi'ita is learning in her Latin program. She doesn't know the difference between the accusative and the dative noun cases and couldn't see why Mi'ita needed to know these things. I assured her that we are focusing on the vocabulary and not memorizing the grammar. We do read it and try to understand it, but we do not memorize the endings for every noun case, to be sure.

She thought the academics were good, overall. She saw that when you have one kid, you can tailor their education. You choose your own priorities. You decide how long they need to work on a subject and how often they need to review it. You can quickly give feedback and help.

Her one concern was two-sided. She was worried about Mi'ita thinking that she was the center of the universe and that I was devoting myself to her and not doing anything for myself.

What can I say to that? Parenting is very different now than when my mother was a little girl. Then, kids desires were irrelevant. What a kid wanted to do on the weekend was not any concern for the parents. Parents did what they did and the kids would help until not needed and then would "go play."

Even the Obamas now devote the weekend to their children. Michele said that she was a mother first and was not going to miss a single ballet recital.

The education and care of their children is the priority of most of the parents that I know. It's a different world. Yes, Mi'ita thinks that she is important and that her desires should be taken into account. If we override her, she argues her case. My mother wouldn't have done that as a child. I wouldn't have either, I don't think, but it's a different world now.

But I'm listening to my mother, too. It's true that I don't do much "for me." I take a Yoga class a couple times a week. I am thinking about re-training in another field since all my education is in Education and I don't want to be a teacher anymore. But I haven't decided what to retrain in yet, nor is there a college in our little burg that could retrain me.

In the meantime, my daughter needs me, and that's okay with me. For now.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Talk about education from real life experiences.

I hurt my leg on January 1st, starting with a limp and progressing daily until a week later I couldn't walk at all. I had to use a wheelchair for a week, with crutches to get up and down the three steps in my house.

My mother moved in to nurse me. I cried from the pain. I threw up from the pain medication. I sat and slept in the lazy boy recliner for two weeks. I couldn't pick up something that I dropped on the floor, less than a foot from my hand. I got cranky.

Mi'ita is not a naturally helpful person, I am afraid to say. If I asked her to pick something up for me on a normal day, she's say, "what, are your legs broken?" (We've been working on that.)

What did Mi'ita learn from watching all this? She certainly had a blast using my wheelchair and crutches. She learned where to put things so that they weren't in my way. She became "the helpful kitten" and fetched and carried for me because my legs were in fact nearly broken.

I don't know what all she learned, but I bet it was pretty substantial, all told.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Teachable Moments

Everyone knows about teachable moments--the times when a kid is curious about something and you are there to teach to it right when it happens.

There are teachable moments in school, too, but think about having 30 students. One kid's teachable moment mostly passes by without anyone having the time or attention to be able to teach to it. The times when all 30 kids are curious about the same thing happen, too, but they are rarer. There are time pressures, too. You might have a teachable moment 2 seconds before it's time to leave for music and that's that.

Parents have teachable moments more often. When you take a kid out of your sphere of influence for 40 hours a week, though, you are passing by a lot of teachable moments.

A few weeks ago Mi'ita and I went to the state capital building as a field trip. I had arranged for a guided tour, but our guide had car problems and we ended up with a "self guided tour" pamphlet. We wandered around, looked at pictures of our governors, saw the empty senate chamber, looked at the empty office of our local rep, ate pancakes at their cafe, bought a doodad at the gift shop and drove away. It wasn't really much of an experience.

On the drive home, though, we had a two hour long teachable moment about government. We talked about how it all works, of course. Mi'ita was not so interested and said that she didn't care for politics much. I don't either, I said, but when you don't participate you hand over the reins to people who do care enough to participate. We talked about gay marriage, mostly, because it is a current issue that we both care about. Both of us have gay and lesbian friends, or friends whose parents are gay or lesbian. We talked a long time about civil rights, what the right to get married means legally, the protections afforded to families that are denied to gay and lesbian families, etc.

During the drive home I thought about how this was a great teachable moment. It probably would have happened eventually if Mi'ita was in school because I've been meaning to take her to the capital anyway.

The thing is, this happens several times a day now. When Mi'ita was in school, we might have a teachable moment once a week.

I think this is why unschooling works.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Current Events

I really like the new assignment that Husband added to our list of to-do's. I added a daily journal entry. He amended, saying that she needed to read an article off of the New York Times in the World section and summarize it twice a week.

Mi'ita will probably complain bitterly about it soon. She's already grumpy, but she's doing it.

Today she read Germany Knows Nothing Of Alleged CIA Murder Plot. She's rather fond of Germany right now, so anything with Germany in it. We had to read it together because there is so much she doesn't know about. What is an embassy? A private security firm? A secret operation? Who is al Qaeda? What does alleged mean? What does it mean when the CIA declines to comment? Vanity Fair, blacklisted, Hamburg cell, bombings in Spain and in East Africa... We talked for a good hour on our own about this short article. Then we talked a good half an hour more with the Daddy over dinner about this. I was wrong about something myself. I thought that if the CIA declines to comment it is akin to an admission of guilt. No. Husband, who used to be in NSA, says that the CIA declines to comment about everything as a policy so that you can't interpret it that way.

Then she had to write a paragraph about it--only five sentences--but it had to be written well. First sentence is a topic sentence. Next three are supporting details. Last sentence is why this is important enough to get into the New York Times. She had to date it and write the name of the article and the magazine. It took awhile, but I think she will get the hang of it. This is her summary:

Jan. 4, 2010

The CIA was accused of a murder plot. According to Vanity Fair, the CIA sent a team of mercenaries to Hamburg to kill Mamoun Darkazanli in 2004. MD is a German citizen who donated to al Qaeda. He is connected to 9-11 and two other bombings. German is our ally. What if we did do this?

"Germany Knows Nothing Of Alleged Murder Plot" NY Times

Short, but not bad for a 9 year old.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Progress Report

When we decided to give homeschooling a whirl, I decided that I would give it a concerted effort until Winter Break. If we were not doing well by then, I'd toss in the towel and enroll her back into school.

Well, this is the last day of Winter Break, and it's time to evaluate.

The biggest difference I see in our lives is in the reduction of conflict. When school is on, five days a week are devoted to almost constant conflict. Seriously. I have to make her do things almost every minute that I see her and she does not respond well to it. In the morning it's "it's time to get up, get dressed, no you can't wear that, brush your teeth and hair, finish your breakfast, get your shoes on, it's time to go, we're going to be late, get your shoes on NOW!" No matter how I phrase it or what my tone of voice is, I am ordering her around and she does not like that.

After school there's a brief respite where I don't have to give her orders but I get to hear how her day went. Frequently she has had trouble with the other kids, often in tears about it, and once a week like clockwork she got in trouble with the teacher and I had to follow up on that. After dinner it was the usual litany of, "get your homework done, you got this problem wrong, yes you have to re-do it, you need to capitalize this" then "take your bath, no it's time for your bath, get out of the bathtub already you've been in there for an hour, get your pajamas on, turn out the light and go to sleep, no you can't read it's too late, go to SLEEP!"

Fun. It's not so much that there is less of that, although there is less. I still have to make her bathe and brush her teeth and do her work, but I don't have to make her do it by 8 AM and that helps tremendously.

It's that there is more of the other stuff. I have time to be with her that I'm not ordering her around. We play games, we play with her cat, we clean out the lizard cage, we talk over lunch, we read next to each other companionably.

I'm not the evil witch. Well, I am still sometimes, but I am the nice mommy, too, and not just on the weekends. I say that an improved relationship with your only child is a big reason to homeschool.

As far as the academic goes, I'm not so sure that she's doing better work at home. That's the reason I started--I had heard so much about the academic success of homeschoolers and I wanted my brilliant daughter to have every opportunity to succeed. What I get, though, is control. I get to decide what is important and what to spend time on.

Since kindergarten Mi'ita has spend probably an hour and a half daily on reading instruction. After first grade, she didn't need it. She reads constantly and well. She may need direction in literature, vocabulary, and pronunciation, but she does not need instruction in decoding and reading comprehension. For the first time since she learned how to read, she doesn't have to spend time learning to read.


She probably spends less time on math, but it's more focused. We finally got a math program that she likes, thank goodness.

I haven't been happy with her writing instruction and I will be focusing on that next.

She has been learning four languages. Well, learning Latin and dabbling in three other languages: German, Swahili, and Vietnamese (we were going to go to Tanzania, canceled our trip because of violence, and booked a trip to Vietnam in February.) Languages used to be a huge part of education. Even in this monolingual country, up until recently everyone had to learn French. The languages themselves are not the ones I would have chosen, but just learning any language increases the understanding of how languages work, grammar, spelling, and most important in my book, increases the respect of immigrants in our country that have to figure out how to speak English.

I get to pick out what I think is important for her to spend time on, and what is not important for her.

She has a better relationship with people, too. She sees friends regularly on frequent play dates and classes that I make a priority to arrange. Playing with friends one on one or in small groups is easier for her. I know that she has to figure out how to work in teams, manage with large groups of people, and deal with people she doesn't like. I make it a priority to arrange times for her to do that, too--in classes such as ballet and TAG, and being in plays. She still doesn't like dealing with people she doesn't like (know anyone who does?) but I make her do it. Luckily she has cousins that she doesn't particularly like and I foist them on her regularly. We all have to deal with family!

Another thing that is a benefit is that I know what she's up to. I know what she is working on and what she is lousy at and who she has been playing with. Her dad asked her the other day what she had done and for some bazaar reason she told him that we had taken the day off. I was able to disabuse him of that notion--we had done Latin, Vietnamese, and math, gone to the library, read a stack of books, and written an entry in her blog.

She likes homeschooling. I like homeschooling. We'll stick with it for now.