When You Can’t Call in a Sub-One Sick Homeschooling Mom

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For pretty much my entire life, I have been sick for the month of November. I get a hacking, horrible cough that leaves me pretty much incapable of doing anything. When I was in the classroom, I could call for a substitute. Now, there is no one to call.  I always thought it was because I have been around kids since I was in pre-school. I really thought that once I was at home with only my kid, I would avoid these fun little cold and flu bugs. Obviously no. That is not going to happen.

So when I woke up with a pounding sinus headache today, I am wondering what do homeschool moms do when they are down for the count?This is a short post. I am really hoping some of you experienced moms can help out.

So…here’s a thought. What will J-man do when if I get sick? The hubs is a full-time student with an almost full-time job outside the home, so I can’t expect him to take over for me. I know we will probably not be following a traditional school schedule., but what if something happens? What contingency plans do you guys have in place for when you are not at your best? This sickie mom wants to know!

Holiday Gift Ideas for the Indoor Techie Kid

Holiday Gift ideas

It is THAT time of year again. The time when I am wracking my brain to figure out what my J-man would love for Christmas that won’t gather dust two days after he opens it. Spoiler alert: J-man, if you are reading this, close my laptop RIGHT now.

Several years ago, when he was just two, we scored big with a Thomas set I bought second-hand from a friend and a few supplemented pieces. Immediately after seeing the set he lay down on the floor next to it and played for the next 14 hours straight. I am not even sure if he ate that day.

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The Christmas of the Train. He stayed in that position until we made him change into new pjs and go to bed.

Since then, Christmas presents have been hit or miss. When gifts are too complicated or simplistic, they languish in the closet.  Your honors, I give you exhibit A:

 

chaos tower

The Chaos Tower was super cool, and J-man loved watching the ball travel through the entire mechanism, but all he did was watch. He was too intimidated by the number of pieces to take it apart and make his own configurations. It is so big and complicated that he can’t really put it together on his own. When put together, it pretty much dominates any room. We had no concept of the size and, really after J-man watches the ball go from one end of the set to another for awhile, he is looking for something else to do.

Unlike the Chaos Tower, Contraptions spark the imagination, can be done alone or with a partner, and can be changed easily. This toy was a definite hit.

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He built that himself and he was about five or six in this picture. The key here is to find something he can do independently, but has more fun doing with a partner. He still gets out the Contraptions at eight. If we were looking at a cost per use figure, it would be pennies.

This year, we are keeping these lessons in mind when seeking that special gift for our buddy. J-man is hugely a techie kid, so if your kid likes all things computer and gadgety, this is the list for you!

****NOTE He will ABSOLUTELY not be getting these things. He is generally happiest with one big toy and  a few smaller things that he really loves. We do not believe in showering kids with loads of new toys that they won’t play with just so they can have something to open on Christmas morning.

  1. Let’s start this list big with the highest ticket item: Lego Mindstorm

This would be a huge reach for us, but he has been asking for it for two years and he is already in a Lego Robotics class. If we could pick up one on eBay, we would be done. It is pretty safe to say his mind would be blown.

Why we love them: This system builds on (see what I did there…builds on Lego? Builds…I crack myself up.) a kid’s experiences with Lego and Technics by adding a programmable robotic element. Here kids start to learn the fundamentals of coding with something that is tangible, not just a computer screen. J-man likes robotics like he likes oxygen, so if we can swing it, this would be a home run.

  1. Kano: Don’t just use a computer, build your own!

 

This is a new product to us, and we are really excited by it. This product allows kids to actually build their own computers. Kano is a pre-boxed set of computer components that kids put together to create their own laptop. Many STEM programs and often many of the Makerspaces we have attended seem to be about “exposing” kids to technology. The challenge with that is “exposure” just creates consumers of technology not creators of new technologies. Kano teaches kids how to make their own tech. Feeling the power to make their own cool things will hopefully become a feeling that kids want to nurture and repeat. Plus, a new computer!

  1. Little Bits

I know. I KNOW. I’ve talked about Little Bits before. But, folks, these things are great. I watched one of J-man’s friends introduced to one of these sets today and she was instantly obsessed. While we have a couple of sets, the Smart Home Kit gives ideas for practical uses of the little bits circuits.

 

  1. Ozobo: Cool, cool, cool!

Robots that you can make follow paths made by markers. different colors in different combinations act as codes, telling the tiny bots what to do. This is the kind of toy that would drive cats crazy! I am not sure about it’s longevity. While super, super cool, I am not sure how long children will really be enamored of this. While they can make the bots do hundreds of combinations movements, I am not sure that would be enough to keep them interested over time. However the price is relatively low enough, so it wouldn’t be soul crushing if it sat on the shelf after a couple of months.

So, these are some of the bigger things we are considering for our little tech guru. What techie tools are you considering for your future Silicon Valley star?

 

 

 

Revolution-Opting Out of Standardized Testing

I am still amazed, despite daily evidence, that in our country we hate science and research so much. We must! We run headlong toward false thinking and take up actions that are continually proven counterproductive and harmful. We do this in our food and lifestyle choices and in our use and choice of energy sources, but nowhere is this willfully ignorant avoidance of logic and research more clear than in our methods of education accountability.

Standardized testing is not new. I took the Iowa and California Achievement Tests as a child and I am 40. The SAT has been around since the 1920s according to Petersons.com. What is different now is the way testing is used. Where as in the past, testing was used as a general litmus test to get an idea for how well a school and its students were doing in comparison to schools and students elsewhere, now it has become a hard bar that determines student placement, teacher compensation, and the distribution of school resources. The problem here, is that while we may be getting better at testing, colleges and businesses are noticing an incoming workforce that is woefully unprepared to contribute to society.

 

 

With all of the money spent on testing, you would think that teachers would receive powerful information about students’ progress that would help them in to provide lessons that meet the needs of our students. You would think this, but you would be wrong. Despite the fact that the majority of Florida FSA testing will be computerized, the results will, in fact, be reported even later in the year than in the past. This means teachers did not get the results before school was out, and by the time the results are released, students will have had several months of learning. So what is this really reporting? (http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/education/school-zone/os-fsa-scores-school-grades-release-post.html)

I would like all politicians to understand that testing is not teaching. It is highly disruptive to the environment of the entire school by creating a level of anxiety and drain on resources that is inexcusable. But don’t believe me, check out the video below.

 

 

These parents in New York are done with this. Would that parents all over the nation would stand up as well. Parents have tremendous power, but they do not know it. You don’t have to home school or even leave traditional public schools. You do have to make your voice heard. Call your state legislators. Call your local board. Ask questions, and opt out!

Welcome to the Future-STEM and the Homeschool

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That drawing is part of a larger piece done by the J-Man last spring. It’s one of my favorite things he has done because on one piece of paper he combined an illustration of Schroedinger’s Cat, the concept of the multi-verse, Darth Vader, and the slogan, “Welcome to the Future!”

I can tell you for sure that, even if we knew about the multi-verse when I was seven, I probably would have been too busy playing with my Barbies to have paid attention to it. J-man on the other hand is all over that business.

And I’m like…How do I even keep up?

 

Talk of STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, is all over the place. It is THE buzzword in education currently. Jonathan Gerlach, an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow Emeritus and NASA Endeavor Fellow for STEM Education, writes in Education Week, “STEM culture cannot begin halfway through a student’s educational career. By the time our students reach 6th grade, they have made a conscience decision whether or not they will be “good” at math and science. The majority of these students have the potential for greatness; however, they were not engaged in authentic learning early enough in their education.”

Check out Jonathan Gerlach’s article here!

How do we, then make STEM a part of our everyday lives? Here are a few resources that we have used and some that I plan to use to encourage J-Man’s continued love of all things STEM.

Science is Real by They Might Be Giants was on constant rotation. We ALL know these songs word for word in this house! We loved They Might Be Giants anyway, but their series of songs about science, are some of our favorites. These are great for little, little kids and will become earworms for mom and dad.

Legos are not just little plastic instruments of torture for your feet to find in the middle of the night. They are building blocks (I can’t believe I went there) of engineering. The technics series uses a combination of simple machines to create elaborate constructions. These builds are gateways to preparing for Lego Robotics. Kids all over the nation compete in teams to create robots to complete different tasks.

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J-Man worked for a week on this technic mobile crane. This incredibly complicated construction makes extensive use of gears to raise and lower the crane.

Check out these Lego homeschool resources here, designed to integrate the love of building with developing writing skills.

Along the same lines of Legos, Little Bits are interchangeable electronic pieces designed to make engineering machines possible without having to wire and weld pieces together. These are awesome to teach some basic mechanics.

Check out these resources for educators here.

J-Man loves Minutephysics videos to teach some really big concepts. Their easy to understand analogies and the novelty of their drawings fascinate our little buddy.

This is his take on what he learned about how the sun works. He doesn’t quite get the whole thing yet, but he is getting there.

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Lastly, and this is not so much a resource as an idea, we have been fascinated by the images from the hubble telescope. This week, we will be doing some watercolors that are inspired by some of the beautiful nebula that we had never seen when I was a child. J-Man’s favorite is the Horsehead Nebula because it looks like a knight chess piece. We will post the lesson plan and the finished results later in the week.

Horsehead Nebula

What are you doing to encourage your child experiences STEM? What resources have you found?

Why I Love Minecraft

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J-man is a reader. He came by it naturally, as I am absolutely obsessed with the written word. I absolutely know he would rather go to Barnes and Nobles to buy new books than go to Universal Studios to ride roller coasters. In fact, we did go to Universal, and he did want to go back to the hotel to play and read.

Over the years other moms have asked how we get him to read. It would seem that their kids don’t want to read, and there is my kid who checks out on a play date to go read his newest acquisition.

So, my definitive answer to getting your kids to read is simple. We follow two principles in this house. Every time we stray from these practices, we fail.

1. Support Interests

Two summers ago, J-man obsessively read with Captain Underpants. Everywhere we went he had a book with him. We would hear him giggling in the bathroom (which we call the library due to his propensity for staying in there for up to an hour reading) or in his room. He would talk to himself and comment on the action as he read. He was immersed in this world, and loved it. As he would finish one book, we would give the next volume in the adventure. During the summer before kindergarten he read all nine books.

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Now, these books are controversial. The humor is scatological to say the least. I mean with titles like Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets, you kind of know what to expect. Many moms and teachers take great offence to the content. The two main characters are notorious pranksters, possibly juvenile delinquents, who create a comic book. The comic book within the book garners even more criticism as it is riddled with misspelling and poor grammar. Here’s the thing. None of this worried me. What I saw was that my five-year old was motivated to try his first chapter books, and he learned to associate reading for longer periods of time with enjoyment and accomplishment. Before Captain Underpants there was the fascination with space and before that it was dinosaurs. His high level of interest pushed him to read books beyond what one would expect to believe was his reading level. Every time we have let his interests lead us, he begs to read. He takes the book everywhere. I have seen him read on the floor of stores while I am shopping, at the beach, the park, and restaurants.

Space

It is when we try to push our interests that we fail. He has several books on physics for kids that are almost untouched. It’s not that he can’t read them, it’s just that his interests don’t lie in that direction yet. He also has an entire shelf of chapter books that he hasn’t really touched because they were books that we thought he should like.

His latest obsession is Minecraft. While many parents and educators get up in arms about the trend toward students becoming obsessed with video games, we, like the ninja parents that we are, have channeled his obsession to encourage more reading. Off to Barnes and Noble! We found several Minecraft Hacks books and a massive Minecraft  tips and hints magazine. To say that J-man has read these, does not quite cover the level of laser like focus he has given to these guides. He reads, grabs a laptop or iPad, practices the tip described, and then refers back to the book for further instruction. I don’t know about you, but I see a world made up of people who struggle to apply technical text to real world situations, and here is this kid at seven with four books lying open around him referring to each as he tries to create online. Parenting win!

2. Don’t Make Reading a Chore

What I am about to say will fly in the face of what education experts will tell you. Study after study implores parents to read to their children 30 minutes a day. Teachers assign 20-30 minutes a day of reading. I was part of this culture when I was a reading teacher. I am here to say, this is not what I have done as a parent, and this can be counterproductive if you are trying to create good readers who love reading.

Confession: There were days when J-man was little when I did not read to him. Sometimes several in a row.

Whaaaaattttt?????

It’s true. I did not read to my own child even though I know what the research says. What the hubs and I did was different in its approach, but had a tremendous effect on how the boy saw reading time. If he brought a book to us, we would stop what we were doing–no matter what that was– and read. We would read until he was satisfied. This means that there were times when I read Ira Sleeps Over (a 48 pager) four or five times in a row. It was not unusual to read for an hour or so. There was the Llama Llama Holiday Drama marathon during a layover in Atlanta when we read THIS ONE BOOK for TWO HOURS. As painful as that was (and kids, you will get tired of reading the same book after the third or fourth consecutive reading), it taught him that his books were important. This was a major contributing factor in his learning to read so early on. He learned sounds, words, and even grammar. He asked what words meant, why the /ph/ sounded like the /f/ and what /!/ meant.

Ira ira end

We have never required him to read a certain number of minutes per day. Even when his teachers, who were my very much-loved colleagues, assigned this. We didn’t do it. Some days he read for over an hour. Some days none at all, and that was fine with me. If he wanted to read the same passage over and over I was good with that. Just yesterday, at Taco Bell (of all places), he quoted Roald Dahl’s BFG, and asked me what I thought the word “bulging” indicated “in this case.” He could do this because he has probably read his favorite parts of that book 100 times.

As much as he likes to read, the surest way to get him to resent it is to make him stop something he loves to do to go read. If you treat reading like a chore, kids will like it about as much as they like cleaning their room. Don’t push. I know this sounds counter intuitive, and it may take a while for some kids to come around to wanting to read, but the more you push the harder the resistance.

And that is it. Follow their interests, but don’t push: my six word story about teaching good reading habits. When people ask me if I am concerned that he is spending hours on Minecraft, I tell the truth. I love me some Minecraft! BRING IT ON! I will find every article, guide-book, and magazine on the subject. I know there are five or so more Minecraft hint books at the store that I am holding out as rewards. I will exploit the heck out of it. In the mean time, my kid is getting some amazing comprehension practice while having fun, and that is what it’s all about.