Monday, February 28, 2011

Odd man out...again

When Dragonette was two, she spontaneously started reading.  By the time she was four, not only was she a voracious reader, she knew the names and locations of the body's organs and the planets in order.  I suspected public school would not work for her even though we lived in a highly regarded school district and began researching private schools in the area.  During my research, I stumbled onto the idea of homeschooling, a concept that I had never heard of before.

The more I read, the more I knew this was the only option if I was to keep my happy little girl a happy little girl.  There is nothing like shoving a love of learning into a square box to create dissonance and discord.

My husband was completely on board and trusted my instincts.  My mother was happy as long as her grandchild was happy and thriving.  My oldest friend's weak protest included me giving up my life, but he, a childless man, did not understand I had done that the day I decided to have a child.

In the first few years, I read everything I could get my hands on about homeschooling: books, articles, email lists, websites.  I learned about homeschooling philosophies, organization, curriculum approaches and how the library was my best friend.  Even though I became well versed in homeschooling and learned how to best fit teaching with how Dragonette and Flower learned, I still had two main obstacles: a lack of any kind of support system outside my home bubble, and a secret worry that I was ruining my child's life.

In the small Ohio town we lived in when I started my homeschool journey, we stuck out like sore thumbs.  Most people loved the school district because it was very well regarded. Of the locals that did homeschool, most began their homeschooling journey due to a child's disability.  We were also transplants to the area, didn't follow a school at home philosophy, or do school in the morning. (Dragonette is most decidedly a night person.)  Talk about a quadruple whammy!

I am sure this lack of support played into my concerns over whether or not I was ruining my children's lives.  It is hard to be a pioneer and back-to-school time was always the worst.  But over time and with repetition, I slowly learned my children would excel despite me.

When we relocated to North Carolina, instantly we found a wonderful homeschooling community with people from all over the world. They brought different ideas and experiences with them and it was truly a breath of fresh air from that small suffocating Ohio town. I finally had no worries about ruining my children's futures and had friends around who didn't think my brand of weirdness was all that strange.

But lately, I have been feeling like the odd man out once again.  High school has either begun or is on the horizon for many in my children's peer group.  Parents are facing new fears on how to educate their children and I myself went through another worry time, similar to the one I went through a decade ago.  I researched and read everything I could get my hands on about homeschooling high school and what colleges look for.  Eventually the worry subsided and I knew we were still on the right path for our family.

But kids we know are dropping like flies, being sent in droves to the infamous brick and mortar school.  The ones that are left don't go to the park anymore to meet up, and mornings are only for school work.  Play time is not allowed unless it is academic in nature and there are no teen groups that meet our needs and no field trips.  Our well loved support group where we found so many friends is now extremely bottom heavy, with parents of three year olds joining and prospering.  While I am glad there is such a strong support network for them that was never available to me, I am melancholy for the old days.

I know how to make a transcript, design courses, and facilitate my children's learning.  Entering school when they are excelling at home makes no sense, so we have no reason not to homeschool through high school.  But like we started this journey, it looks like we will make it to our destination alone.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Coming Out of the Closet

Everyone has a secret.  They try to keep it hidden from prying eyes.  Sometimes those eyes belong to strangers and family alike.  Some secrets are embarrassing and some will send you to jail.

When you have a secret, you go to great lengths to hide it.  You make up stories, omit parts of the truth, and if necessary, you change parts of yourself to protect that secret.

Sometimes, the secret becomes bigger than you are.  Involving multiple people, it becomes a delicate balancing act.  Who knows what, who is going to slip up, and what repercussions will it have?

You start to forget who you really are, because all that matters is protecting the secret.  And when  alone, you get angry at yourself, because the secret becomes more important than being true to yourself.

What secret, you may ask, could I have that is so damning?  What is this secret that eats at the very soul of my family?   What thing makes us stammer, and aloof, whispering in the shadows with co-conspirators?

Occasionally we find others with the same damning secret.  They become our allies against the world.

My secret lies buried in this sentence...My children are incredibly gifted athletes.  Does that make you cringe and look at me like I am alien? Are you interested enough to wonder which sports they are best at?  Did you relax when you found out this was all I was hiding?  Okay, then let us take away the hidden code and examine the naked truth.....My children are incredibly gifted.  There, I said it.

Your whole perspective has changed, hasn't it?  I am now repulsive, with a large ego.  How dare I think my kids are better than yours.  How dare I look down my elite nose at you.  Funny how leaving out 1 little word changed everything.

I do not homeschool because of religious beliefs.  I do not homeschool because I am afraid of what my kids will pick up from school.  I do not homeschool because I want to control my children and brainwash them.  I do not homeschool because my children have disabilities that make learning challenging. I do not homeschool because I am afraid of school violence.  I do not homeschool because I want to sleep in.  I do not homeschool because we are wealthy. I do not homeschool because I am lazy.

I homeschool because my children forced me into it.  I homeschool because schools cannot handle their abilities.  I homeschool because I had no choice in the matter.  And as I homeschool, I hang on for dear life, bewildered, as my children drag me along.

If my children went from high school to professional sports, you would probably support them and even hope for some comped tickets.  Perhaps you would seek out their progress in the sports pages and the TV news.  Maybe you would let it slip to your friends and co-workers that you know them.  After all, some kids just have the gift and they should go for it.

Some kids go from elementary school, pause briefly in high school and then are off to college.  But you say they are pushed by parents or are freaks. They are rich and have unfair resources available to them, unreachable by the regular blue-collar worker and his family.  Never could it be that their gift is just as creator-given as the professional athletes'. 

I have stories to back anecdotally what I say.  Test scores and awards given by impartial third parties for tests, taken years before they are supposed to be taken, litter my files.  One child won a scholarship that pays for her high school expenses and most likely her college and graduate school tuition, earned years before she reached high school age.  The other is beginning to display skills that are just as incredible but uniquely her own.

"Bragging!" you say.  "A swelled head!" you proclaim.  "Elitism!" you shout.  "Knock her back to her station in life!" you insist. Do you look at me in disgust?  Are you talking about me behind my back?  Are you challenging me and my "exaggerated" stories?  Do you direct barbs at me and my children, disguised as what you think are clever questions?  Why?

There is pain in my heart as I watch my children come home, exhausted from hiding.  Age and experience allow me to cope better, but I too come home exhausted from never being able to honestly speak.  Tired from watching every word, every slip of the tongue, every reference, for fear that someone will take me as a braggart or treat me as an untouchable.  I can never admit all that I really know.  Never sharing the excitement of what my kid did today, like every other parent.  Never posting their accomplishments or their witticisms on Facebook.  Allies are few.  We can only uncloak in front of a small group of people.  It is the only time I can slip out of the shadows and the walls around me.

But I have finally done the unthinkable.  I have come out of the closet and I am only telling the truth.  Can you handle it?

Monday, February 7, 2011

VocabAhead - TOS

There is nothing like a coming across a word in a book, in a conversation, or on a test that you don't know to make you feel, well, uneducated.  The average college graduate is thought to have a working vocabulary of about 20,000 words.  A person starts school with 4000-5000 words and adds about 1000 a year through college.

But just like trivia, not everyone knows every word that everyone else does.  The English language is thought to have around a million words!  So what is a person to do to be prepared for things like SAT vocabulary analogies?

The sensible approach is to add a core group of words to your vocabulary.  You know, the ones that are most likely to show up in places where you need to know what is going on.  And while making flash cards of each word and their definitions is doable, it isn't necessarily the easiest or most time effective way to increase your personal word bank.

VocabAhead has a variety of products designed to address this conundrum. The product I tried is the 1000 SAT Vocabulary Videos and mp3s.

This DVD-ROM contains both auditory (mp3s) and visual (cartoon) aids for increasing your vocabulary.  After inserting the DVD-ROM into my computer (it wouldn't work in my DVD player) and I could watch or listen to the files, which were listed in alphabetical order.  You can also download both the video and mp3 files onto an iPod, iPhone or iPad, but we own none of these, so I could not give that a try.

The mp3 files worked best for our family, as they could be put onto Dragonette's mp3 player and be mixed up with her songs.  She gets a word here and there, continually, instead of trying to memorize a long list at once.  About half of the word list she already knew, so she did not download those files.  She takes words off her play list as she learns them, allowing the ones she was struggling with to have maximum play time. 

The video files did not work nearly as well for our family.  The only medium we have to access these is a desktop, and it just was not practical to sit down and review words this way.  These are not moving videos, but instead a cartoon that was overlaid with the corresponding mp3 track.  For us and our available technology, a book would have been a more useful visual tool, as it is much more mobile.

Products Available:
Book containing 300 SAT essential words with DVD-ROM - $12.95 on Amazon
DVD-ROM with 1000 SAT words - $24.99 on Amazon
An app for iPhones and iPods available on iTunes - I am not able to access iTunes from my computer, so I could not look up the price for the apps

If you are looking for an SAT vocabulary resource that does not involve the internet, the DVD-ROM would be the VocabAhead resource to look at. However, if you do not want a book, mp3 files, or the ability to use on an i anything, many of the words are available for free on VocabAhead's website.  You can watch the videos, hear the audio, and in the Teachers' section you can set up custom word lists, use widgets, and make your own vocabulary videos.  The Study Room has quizzes and flashcards. And on the main pages you can sign up for a word of the day to land in your email each day.

VocabAhead provides a variety of ways to increase your vocabulary.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Roman Town - TOS

See below for coupon code.
Computer games play a very large part in the schooling of my kids.  With someone other than Mom challenging them, they look up answers and try, try again to beat the computer. They are exposed to not only the three R's, but to logic, perseverance, and thinking outside the box.

But with Dig-it Games' new award-winning title, Roman Town, kids are exposed to a concept that is generally only taught in a hands-on way, if it is taught at all: archaeology.

This game is set in 79 AD, the time period when Mount Vesuvius erupted.  Dragonette played the game all the way through and has wrote the following description.

"In Roman Town, you are helping the professor to excavate an ancient Roman house in the town of Fossura.  There are six dig sites, and once you choose your site, there is a dirt area where white flags will pop up.  Highlight a tool in the toolbar and click on a flag to make your stick people start excavating.  When a person finds something, a green speech bubble will appear.  Click on it before it turns red and disappears.  Then you'll get to use your trowel-cursor to uncover the object.  The professor (and /or his two ancient Roman friends, who lived in the house) will tell you about the item. You can find the same thing several times over (i.e. there were oil lamps in all of the rooms of the house).
Men Digging

    When you run out of new flags and all your men finish digging, you will sort your artifacts into four different boxes.  You'll then be taken to the lab--the professor's dig site tent--where you'll be able to play Calculi (an ancient Roman game), reconstruct mosaics, frescoes, or 3-D pottery, match the old Roman items to modern ones, or find what doesn't belong in the room.  The lab activities change depending on what you excavated.  You can also look back at what you found.  When you're finished with the activities, you can tour the room you just excavated as it might have looked in its prime.  After that, you help the professor with his dig site report by dragging words to the correct blanks.  Then you can start on the next excavation."       
Using the trowel-cursor to find object

The ages targeted by this game is 5th-8th grade, but that has nothing really to do with skills necessary for this game, as much as it has to do with education standards.  If you have a child that is interested in what archaeologists do, or has ever asked about Ancient Rome, this computer game will fit the bill.  It has very little sound effects and is reading intensive, so if you have a child that does not read well, you will have to sit with them.

Both my children learned more about the daily life of Romans with this game. Dragonette (14) enjoyed the games and while she did learn things, felt she was a bit old for it.  She feels she would have thoroughly enjoyed this game had it been available a few years ago. It was right on target for Flower (10), and while she did enjoy the parts she completed, she is not a big History buff and lost interest in the game before completing it.  It has nothing to do with the quality if the game, as it has to do with her interests (aka math) and personality.

In an age where so many things are available on-line,  it is nice to see a company that is still making quality educational software on disc.

Roman Town is available for $39.95 normally, but as a reader of this blog, you can get a large discount if you order before February 21, 2011.

If you enter in the coupon code TOS2011 while ordering you will bring your price down to $19.96.