Friday, August 30, 2013

a big decision

this is not a casual announcement.  it isn't about a casual decision.  it has been carefully considered, debated, weighed and measured, pondered, fretted over, dreamed about.

diana is attending public school this year.

this will take some of you by surprise.  "what?  i thought you were homeschoolers!  how did this happen?"

this was entirely diana's decision, and we fully support her in making it and following through with it.

she'd actually been thinking about this for quite a while, even before we moved to virginia.  the desire to "try it out" solidified for her over the summer.  she'd shared her early thoughts with only a select few people, concerned that she would be ostracized by some in the homeschooling community or teased by public-school families.  though a little tentative to tell some people we recently met here, she took the plunge and was met with a pleasant disinterest; the girls just wanted to make sure they'd still be friends, regardless of the style or location of their education.  what a refreshing attitude!

so, why? why here? why now?
  • many people attend public school at some point.  she wants to try it for herself, to experience it firsthand.  an important benefit of this, she noted, is that she'll be able to incorporate a voice of experience into her writing.
  • she's heard and read about how other kids "hate" school.  she just doesn't understand how it could be as bad as so many people make it out to be.  it's supposed to be an institution of learning, and she has clearly established she loves learning.  so, naturally, being the skeptical, questioning scientist and philosopher she is, she wants to find out on her own.
  • she has not heard, at least from us, that everything about public school is bad.  she is excited about the potential to meet and work with new teachers, establish friendships amongst students her age with whom she can share common interests and experiences, and study subjects from a different perspective.
  • the school really is a neighborhood one.  it's within easy walking distance; many of the public-schooled kids walk in groups to and from there on a daily basis.  diana already made friends, through science camp and going to the pool, with other students in the same grade, and they have shared in her excitement about spending more time together at school.
  • the timing is right.  the recent move here gave her the impetus she needed to dive right in.  we were making a clean, new start in a new place with new people.  at this point in her life, she has the self-confidence, maturity, energy, and desire to approach this experience with courage and commitment.  she has the determination to make the school the better for her being there, and i believe she will be successful in doing so.
she's got a new backpack, a new haircut, and plenty of super school supplies she loved shopping for, including a never-ending supply of freshly-sharpened no. 2 pencils that are "lucky", according to her.  she has plans for the mini-muffins and cookies she wants to bake with me to tuck into her lunches.  she met her new teacher at the school open house and, after a few minutes, stated to me that the woman presented herself as someone who would make a very good friend.

this haircut was all her idea, too. she'd had her hair long for so long, i wondered if and when it would happen. she loves how it looks and feels, and she thinks she looks good. that's all i needed to know.

does diana has any misgivings?  sure.  she worries that she won't be able to keep track of all her belongings or will be late in arriving to where she needs to be.  she's concerned that she may use up all of her "social energy" by being with people for such an extended period of time, but she's already made a plan on how to recharge each day.  she's somewhat disappointed, after reviewing the subject outlines of material she will be studying in 5th grade, to see that we have explored nearly everything on the list already in some fashion, but she is enthusiastic about reinforcing what she knows through different approaches. she believes she will find plenty of new things to learn.

so what does that mean for me?  well, for the time being, i am released from one of my current occupations as diana's primary homeschool teacher.  how that manifests is yet to be seen, but i'll let you know how it goes . . .

one thing for certain, i am still happyer at home.  this blog will continue.  there are so many things for me to write, and i will have more time to spend on my writing, among my other project work.  especially for those of you who are curious as to what a transition into public-schooling from homeschooling is like, i'll have special topics* to report on for you.

forget about welcome back to school.  it's welcome to school, at least for this young lady.

* at more than one point along the way, i felt a pang of fear that my dear daughter, my precious child, was asking to attend school because something in her homeschool experience was severely lacking, that she was trying to get out of it, that i had not done enough to make it a worthwhile experience.  she assuaged my concerns most reassuringly, telling me that she was "not running away from" me or homeschooling, but, instead "running towards" something new with enthusiasm and curiosity.  she refuses to avoid public school out of fear, and wants to embrace it for the potential it holds.  i'd like to think that was one of the lessons she learned through our homeschooling experience.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

homeschool mythbusting, part three: learning

this is the third in a series about mythbusting with my eldest, diana.  she has agreed to my interviewing her to blog about her experience thus far as a homeschooler.  for part one, please go here; for part two, go here.

mom: "diana, we've talked about some of the strange ideas people have when it comes to homeschooling.  you've told me about some of the misguided assumptions other kids have had about your experience, like that you cannot possibly make new friends or you don't have to work hard.  you've also mentioned to me that some kids wonder how you actually learn anything, since with homeschooling you don't have a teacher.  can you tell me more about that?"

diana: "in fact, i DO have a teacher, and not even one teacher, but several.  i take classes at several different places.  in california, i took classes at the davis art center in art (clay and weaving), in several kinds of dance and movement, including irish dance, yoga, and aikido.  i took watercolor classes with miss becky (of lab rat academy) who was absolutely amazing.  she also taught me about plant and animal cells and geology.  my mom and dad help.  dad teaches me math and mom teaches me french.  i also use the aid of workbooks and learning programs online and on the computer, such as teaching textbooks.  and also i can learn things just by going to the grocery store: for example, now i know how to use the self-checkout, which is a very useful thing to know."

mom: "what do you think you learn by homeschooling that is different from a public school experience?"

diana: "well, i can learn at my own pace, whatever pace i want.  if i feel like plowing on through, forward and forward and forward, then i can do that and not be held back by a schedule.  if i'm having difficulty with something, we can stop and work through it without disrupting the whole class, because i AM the class.  also, in public schooling, i am with a lot of people all the time.  i'm pretty sure that would expend my social energy for the day, but, in homeschooling, i spend plenty of time at home or with one-on-one tutoring, which is a lot easier for me as an introvert."

mom: "what things have you most enjoyed learning about while homeschooling?"

diana: "history, for one, because it's interesting to learn about the great, bad, and ridiculous things that people have done.  writing, because i'm an author, of course.  and some kinds of math, especially algebra, because i love balance math! and that was so much fun."

mom: "what have your dad and i tried to teach you about who is in charge of your education, and what does that mean to you?"

diana: "I am in charge of my education, which means there are a few subjects that i must learn and i have a lot of choice about any other subjects that i'd like to do, such as french and piano and irish dance and geology and chemistry and a bunch of other things.  also, i am going to learn how to train rats because soon i will be getting some rats to train and i bet that will be a lot of fun!"

mom: "great.  thanks.  i think we're done here."

diana: "why don't you ask me if i like learning?"

mom: "ok, good question.  do you like learning?"

diana: "YES!  because it is useful and fun!"

Friday, August 16, 2013

homeschool mythbusting, part two: work

this is the second in a series about mythbusting with my eldest, diana.  she has agreed to my interviewing her to blog about her experience thus far as a homeschooler.  for part one, please go here.

mom: "you've said that people ask you if you do the same amount of work as a homeschooler as would a public-schooler."

diana: "this is not just one occasion like some of the other questions (about homeschooling); i have this question asked of me a lot.  it usually happens when when somebody asks what school i go to and i tell them that i'm homeschooled.  they tell me, 'oh you are so lucky,' and i say, 'why?'  they tell me, 'well, you don't have to do work if you're homeschooled.'  and i say, 'no, i've got just as much work as anyone else does.  homeschool doesn't change the amount of work that i have.'"

mom: "what do you tell people about what you do as a homeschooler?"

diana:  "i do a lot of similar subjects (as public-schoolers): math, english/language arts, science sometimes, and i also do some other things.*  i get plenty of exercise, i used to take lessons for playing piano, irish dance, and yoga.  i work as owner of 'the yummy brownie,' i read all the time, i do chores, i play with legos, and i do a zillion other things.  so nobody can really say i don't work because i'm homeschooled."

mom:  "some people might think that all you are doing is fun stuff, like legos, or you get to just play and not work.  how would you respond to that?"

diana:  "you are right, some people might think that, because mostly it's true.  i don't consider my work my work, i consider my work my play and i like doing school stuff, so someone can say that 'you just get to do the things you want all day' and i could say, 'yes, because that's what i want to do all day.'  of course, there are some things that i don't really want to do, and then i figure out a way to make them fun."

mom:  "can you give me an example?"

diana:  "when i find something that i don't want to do, i make a game out of it.  if i don't want to eat a certain food, then i pretend that it's a sort of test to make me stronger or i build a tiny machine and the tiny machine's job is to put food in my mouth.  if i don't want to do something in my workbook, then i pretend that maybe i'm a scribe or a monk in the middle ages writing down a book, which is much more interesting than writing down in a workbook.  then i turn something i don't like into something fun, because it's a game.  if something is really slowing me down, then i stop and take a break and then come back to it a little bit later."

mom:  "you mean you actually like to do do math and science and language arts?  some kids complain about those subjects."

diana:  "yes!  math is interesting.  science, if it involves experiments, i'm all over it, because experimenting is so much fun.  language arts?  it's good for me to know these because i can help improve my writing and i love my writing.  also, i can read more because if i know about word roots, i can take apart a word, figure out what it means, and put it back together."

mom:  "what are the main differences, in your opinion, between homeschool and public school in terms of work?"

diana:  "i think there are different ways to measure work.  if you are talking about how much time it takes to get through all of it, i'd say that for public-schoolers, it takes forever to get all the work done because, seriously, it's a 7 hour day of working, and then you go home and do your homework.  i often wonder how public-schoolers get anything else done!  however, if you are measuring work by the challenge, it really depends on each person.  because different schools are different.  if you are in advanced academics vs regular public school there's a difference, and just about every homeschooled person goes at a different pace, and the way to really learn things well is to have just the right amount of challenge.  if you have just the right amount of challenge, the work would seem harder, right?  and if you weren't challenged at all, you'd just whip through it and it would be super easy and you would also get bored.

"i also get to arrange my schedule myself in homeschooling, and public-schoolers have their schedules made for them."

mom:  "would you consider that an advantage or a disadvantage, arranging your work schedule for yourself while homeschooling?"

diana:  "it depends on what kind of person you are.  if you have trouble making a schedule yourself and filling your day as best you can, then a public-schooler's schedule would be useful.  if you don't like having people telling you what you should do at certain times, it's nicer to have my kind of schedule."

mom:  "another thing, though, is about the choice of work and your input into those choices.  how much of a part do you play in determining what you will spend your time working on?"

diana:  "well, there are some things that i've got to do during the day.  i can't take them off my schedule but i can pick what time i want to have them done.  there are some orther parts of my schedule that you (mom) don't tell me i have to do but i have a personal goal to do them.  for example, writing letters to my friends.  i feel guilty if i don't write them.  so it makes me happier if i can put that on my schedule.  mostly, my favorite part about my schedule is that i get to choose when i do things.  most of the time, you (mom) set an end time (for example, get all my work done before dinner), but i get to choose what time in any other part of ther day i can do anything else.

"overall, i have most of the control over what and when i do things.  somethings you (mom) or dad handles, but most things i do myself.  i think that it is working out fine for right now."

*from dawn: i do look at the state standards for each grade level we cover, just for reference, so that we don't skip over a topic.  we certainly are not limited to those, though.  a smattering of subjects we've explored: biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, cosmology, physics, engineering; grammar, homophones, word roots, spelling, editing; ancient history through the renaissance; government and political process; comparative religion, coding/programming, website design; economics and business management; cartography; geometry, pre-algebra, topology; music theory, notation, composition, and performance; conversational french; ceramics/sculpting, candle-making, drawing, painting, weaving; aikido, irish dance, and yoga; poetry, creative writing, blogging, journalism, publishing; and so on . . .

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


this is not about diana's forays into cake decorating.  if you want that, go here and here.  no, this is about steve.

it comes up as a topic of conversation every once in a while.  you know, that steve makes cakes for his children for their birthdays.  the most recent emergence was triggered by finding the most adorable mushrooms at the farmer's market.  well, re-finding them.  i saw them weeks ago as i meandered among the vendor stalls on my own during the fourth annual lake anne plaza ukelele festivalteeny-tiny little polymer clay toadstools with spots and stems that glow in the dark.  i knew that diana would be exceedingly fond of them, so we looked for the same vendor again a week later and, as predicted, diana uttered loud squees of delight and purchased four right on the spot.  the lovely vendor, jessica, was so pleased to see diana's obvious pleasure in acquiring them that i felt compelled to share how one of diana's birthday cakes was, in fact, a giant puffball toadstool, and so, my reminder of the cake post i have wanted to do for some time.

there.  still with me?

this was all his idea, you know.  it started with diana's first birthday.  we selected a duck theme because it was her first word.  well, "ack" was her first word.  for "quack" which is what a duck says, so, close enough.

steve volunteered to make the cake.  sure, i thought.  why not?

he created the ingenious bill using chocolate pieces that look remarkably like pringles.

the birthday girl seems nonplussed. or uncertain. or suspicious.
noah's ark was the theme for party two.  because of the pairs of animals.  there were two of everything, including guests for the party.

i thought the ramp and porthole were nice touches.

yes, the animals are a little weird. and not sized appropriately. that's what you get for dollar-store purchases. hey, we were on a graduate student budget.

no complaints about the taste, though.
number three: a snake.  yes, she asked for a snake cake.  a diamondback rattlesnake.  big enough to serve to our entire playgroup at her party.  steve made two bundt cakes for this, one yellow and one chocolate, to suit both preferences.

fruit leather. brilliant.
fantastic four: "lemon vader."  don't ask.  our daughter certainly knew her own preferences, thankyouverymuch.

luscious lemon cake underneath all that creepy frosting.

hey, hey, we're the vaders! (with an obliging set of grandparents)

fabulous five: she asked for the universe!  no, just the solar system.  we had her party at the planetarium.  it was out of this world.  no, i won't ask you to pardon the pun.

the birthday princess helped out on the decorating this time, as there were many planets to adorn.

yes, there are 10 heavenly bodies plus a sun and a rocket.  pluto had been demoted to a dwarf planet by then, and diana was fond of eris. she wanted to make sure her dessert was cosmically correct.
ander enters the scene here.  we didn't quite know what to do for his first birthday.  hey, who let in all these elephants?

it's important for babies to have their very own smash cake, at least for their first birthday. it's so much fun to watch them play.  the bigger cake is for bigger guests.

he knew precisely what to do with that chocolate elephant. eat it. one bite at a time.

diana was next.  the number six cake had, in fact, eight legs.

we went to the st louis zoo, one of our very favorite places in the world. we adopted, on diana's behalf, a red-kneed tarantula as part of the zoo parents program.  (she still, to this day, has the plush animal guarding her on the headboard of her bed.)  so, she had to have a cake to represent her favorite creature.

at the party, her friends' reactions to the cake ranged from disturbed to ecstatic.  they pretty much all knew she'd have something . . . different.  also delicious.  no one refused to eat it.

when ander turned two, we knew what he liked.  rainbows.

it tasted as beautiful as it looked.

by diana's seventh, we had made the decision to foster a rabbit through the spca.  diana knew just what she was hoping for in a bunny.  and she wanted a cake to match.  (actually, several cakes, as we had friends coming to share with us.)

she designed the ears herself.

snowball joined us soon after and has been our house companion ever since. she looks pretty much the same as the cake, with the exception of the chocolate chips.

when ander turned three, he was all about musical instruments, particularly percussion.

and when diana turned eight, she loved snails.  we had plenty in the yard to play with and watch, but this one we got to eat.

note the giant leaf it was on. he thinks of everything!
ander's fourth birthday brought out the real builder in steve.

yes, folks, that's the st. louis arch

diana's ninth birthday celebration was all about fairies, and nothing says fairies like a mushroom cake, right?  she hasn't lost her fanaticism for fungi since.

ander's fifth birthday was a little out of the ordinary, in that steve was not home to make the cake.  he had just moved across the country to start his new job.  we were disappointed to break tradition in this way, but i did make sure to provide ander and his friends a triple-chocolate cake that was enjoyed by all.

back to animals again for diana's golden birthday.  diana and her sleepover guest watched in avid amusement as steve had to fashion a way to keep the head into place so it wouldn't self-decapitate before the party the next day.

and most recently, for ander's sixth birthday, he requested that daddy make "a lego brick. 2x4. brown."  ok, so legos don't typically come in brown, but they do exist for a variety of specialty sets.  we understood he was going for chocolate here, and we indulged.

my very favorite part of this cake?  after we had consumed some of it, ander noted that we had eaten it down to a 2x3 brick.  another cut and it was a 1x2 attached to a corner bracket.  nothing gets past this boy of ours.

after all these years and steve's success every. single. time. in producing an epic cake that wows its intended recipient, i think i'm finally starting to relax.  after all, he takes tim gunn's phrase to heart: "make it work."

note: please check out his dalek, phantom, and superman's cape.

homeschool mythbusting, part one: friends

this will be the first in a series about mythbusting with my eldest, diana.  she has graciously agreed to my interviewing her to blog about her experience thus far as a homeschooler.


diana has homeschooled all her life.  as a result, most (but certainly not all) of our social interactions have been with other homeschoolers.  one topic that has arisen in her conversations with non-homeschoolers, often at a playground, within a class at the davis art center (where diana studied weaving, ceramics/clay, dance, yoga, and aikido), or talking with neighbors is about the creation and development of friendship.

diana is surprised every time someone asks her how she could possibly make friends as a homeschooler.  i asked her to tell me about a recent situation where that came up.

diana: "at summer camp, i got into a conversation with a girl about how many friends we had.  she told me that, 'naturally, a public schooler would have more friends than a person who didn't go to school because a public schooler was friends with the entire grade.'  i told her, 'that can't possibly be true because i'm pretty sure you can name one person who is practically your enemy who is in the same grade as you.'  she said, 'at least we know everybody.  having more friends is better.'  i don't think that.  i have fewer than a hundred friends and i am perfectly happy."

mom: "i wonder, based on what we know about introversion and being quiet, do you think her reaction had more to do with extroversion than it did with where or how someone is educated?"

diana: "yes, i think so, especially the part about having more friends is better.  personally, i prefer to work with one or two friends at a time, but that's often difficult when i am in a large group of people.  my other friends get jealous because i am spending more time with one person other than them."

mom: "so, how do you find friends as a homeschooler?"

diana: "as humans, we naturally find what we are looking for.  so, usually we find a homeschooling group or meet some of my neighbors.  and pretty soon, we are best friends.  i have a tendency to do that.

"most of the time, you (mom) introduce me to a girl about my age with similar interests, or it's one of my neighbors; sometimes i'm walking along the sidewalk one day and there is someone out playing and i end up joining the game and making friends.

"i go to different clubs - book club, chess club, science club, all sorts of places where there are people of similar interests.  they don't even have to be homeschoolers - it can just be any group.

"sometimes in doing the yummy brownie or some other little store, someone comes along and says, 'that sounds really cool, can i help you with it?' and then we end of becoming friends, partly because we like to do the same sort of projects."

mom: "do you think that homeschooling has put you at a disadvantage in your opportunity to make friends?"

diana: "no.  i think that homeschooling and public schooling are the same in the 'making friends department' and the different types of schooling don't make a huge difference."

mom: "thanks for talking with me.  do you have anything else you'd like to add to this discussion about friends and homeschooling?" 

diana: "if you want a friend, you can find a friend.  just go somewhere, and you'll probably meet a person who has similar interests.  for example, if you go to a bowling alley, then you'll probably meet someone around your age who likes bowling just like you do and then, ta-dah, you've made a friend.  even if the only thing you have in common is liking bowling, you can go bowling with that friend and it's more fun to do it together."


legos, legos, everywhere.  other lego enthusiasts.  as soon as i heard about this lego convention a few months ago, i put it on the calendar, knowing that we simply must attend.

i did worry just a little.  it was held at an expo center, a big building with lots of noise, and there was an estimate of 20,000 attendees over the weekend, so lots of people.  not ideal conditions for any of our family members.

it was better than i anticipated, though.  despite the long lines to enter, it was a relatively short wait.  people moved quickly and quietly.  once inside, everything was well-labeled and accessible.  people shared space in a very friendly and accommodating manner and respected the boundaries of the plastic chains to keep from crowding or touching the builds (i loved the quote i saw in several places, something about "fingers caught touching the displays would be returned to their owners at the end of the convention").  even in the stay and play space, where kids could get their hands on the legos and build racing cars to compete, people gave each other room to work.  the only unhappy sounds i heard were from ander when we were too close to the loudspeakers while the announcer was calling out the bingo game.

there were planes, trains, and automobiles.  castles, cities, constructions and complete fantasylands.  working ferris wheels and an extreme rube-goldberg machine of sorts to keep a ball rolling from one moving build to another along tables.  things to see, things to do, things to buy, people to meet.

the convention attendees (of all ages) typically sat near their builds and were visibly pleased when we uttered exclamations of excitement upon seeing their creations.  most were comfortable enough to answer questions about their work.  it makes me wonder if we should be attendees of the convention, rather than mere observers, next year . . .

these photos represent just a smidgen of what was on display.  steve and i spent more time ogling than taking photos, but these are some highlights:

ander's favorite section: space themed builds. the gentleman here was happy to tell ander about what he and his son built

i'd call this an extreme build. this was HUGE!

c is for construction

love this little bagpiper

a nod to doctor who

mosaic work

scaled snails

hedwig. the theme for this year's brickfair was birds. note the books and golden snitch are also lego.

the largest displays with multiple builders were amazing to behold, especially the ones with working trains

seriously. 15,000 pieces in this shuttle.
these people understand the need to touch the legos, not simply look at them. this is a convention, not a museum!
mama having lots of fun!

boy doing what he does best

ander got to meet some of his youtube heroes at the brick show
the mini-est of legos, modulex pieces, suited diana just fine.  she's now the proud owner of some, along with a tiny box to keep them in.  because mini.
just one of the many, many magnificent builds with so many delightful details to discover. i wonder how much this weighs.

see you next year, lego fans!