It Is Time to Embrace Online Education

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It is time to forget about schools, universities, colleges and fully embrace online education. This might sound crazy, but it is probably the way we’re heading in the future anyway. Ten or twenty years from now, I do not think there will be many schools left where to send your kids.

Apple computer

The technology needed for online classes does not lack in a middle class family.


If there are, they certainly will not be anything like they are now. But even if the standard education system does continue to live on, perhaps it is time we rejected it and here is why.


It Is Dangerous

It is hard to disagree that schools and colleges have become dangerous places for children and students. Over the past few years we have seen tragic shootings, horrific acts of violence, sex scandals, drug epidemics and much more. It seems clear that schools are no longer safe for children and that is not even taking into account the level of bullying present in the education system. Continue reading »

Did you know one in twelve teenagers self harm and it is usually due to bullying at school? This should certainly make you think twice about sending your kids into what is essentially a minefield of hazards. As for college level, why head to college where we know there are frat houses and hazings? Instead, you can cut out the nonsense and get all the knowledge from an online course.


It Does Not Provide Better Results

You might think that by sending your kids to school and paying for onsite college education they are getting a better deal. Many people argue it leads to better future prospects but this is no longer the case. Firstly, online degrees now offer the same level of teaching as one of the top colleges in the country.

If you have a look at a resource like Fresno Pacific University Online, you will see they offer plenty of courses designed to give students the knowledge they need to excel in business. Even your local community college might offer online degrees.

As for homeschooling, with the right plan in place, you can ensure your child gets the grades to follow whatever future they want. If you look at the exam scores of schools in your area, you might be surprised by the alternative they provide. It is fair to say that standards in education have dropped over the last few years.


It Is Too Expensive

If we are thinking purely about higher education, we need to look at the cost. The average university leaves students in debt that amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars. This can take years to pay off and that is if you get a good enough job. Most graduates find it takes up to year to find a position where they can even start to think about paying off this debt.

On the opposite side of the line, online university fees are minimal thanks to little overhead. So, you can get a great degree without the absurd fees charged by your standard college.


The Technology Needed Is Here

Finally, it is no longer necessary for kids or students to sit in classrooms all day. Internet speeds are fast enough for live feeds that can be broadcast straight into the home. In most classes, kids are surfing the net researching anyway, and they can do that at home where they are safe. As for students’ using technology, we can help them learn independently while still having the support there when they need it.

There is really no longer any reason to support in-school education or the colleges that drive young people into debt before they even begin their adult career. It is time for a change.

Cloudy With A Chance of Music

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The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra (KSO) regularly schedules concerts for school children. Cloudy with a chance of music was geared toward children in PK-2nd grade. As such, it was very interactive. The conductor guided the children through the program and had a special guest who contributed to the whole program.

The beautiful Tennessee Theater in Knoxville

The beautiful Tennessee Theater in Knoxville

You cannot beat actually being in the audience at the Tennessee Theater, of course, but should you not be able to attend, you can make your own concert by following the Teacher’s Guide provided on the KSO website and by picking out the songs from YouTube – any orchestra will do. Continue reading »

Of course, you will not get the interactive part of the concert, the dialogue between the conductor and the special guest, or between him and the audience. When you stay home, you have limitations. But you can still come pretty close to educating your children as if you had been in a concert hall.

We had a lot of fun and it was worth our time. I must confess, I get too comfortable to drive to Knoxville sometimes, but I remember how much we enjoy these concerts and get into gear, no pun intended. Plus, it is always great to see my last name on the seating chart. I don’t think it is vanity. I think it is simply the excitement of a mom who loves homeschooling.

Maybe my next book should be called “I Am School” and should detail all the ways in which a loving parent can offer her children the stimulation and opportunities very few brick and mortar schools offer these days, for a fraction of the price and time investment. Hmmm….

SNL Writer Mocks Homeschoolers

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In less than 140 characters, Saturday Night Live writer Katie Rich managed to mock Barron Trump, homeschooling, and school shootings all at once in a Tweet that has since been deleted.

Barron Trump, Melania Trump, Donald Trump

The First Family during the Inauguration

Many are now asking for NBC to fire Rich. It’s one thing to disagree with President Trump’s policies. It’s another thing altogether to attack his 10-year-old son. Most of us will never understand the pressure this child has been facing for the past 18 months, since his father decided to run for the presidency. Imagine what it will be like for him for the next four or even eight years to pretty much grow up in the White House.

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I have a nine-year-old son and I can tell you what I have discovered: he is a child. My son looks older because he is really tall for his age. He already wears size 12 pants. But his mind is still the mind of a child. Bathroom humor seems really funny to him. He wants to play all day. Practicing his violin takes some convincing on some days, as he cannot control his impulses and wants to do what comes easier, which is anything but build more skill on the violin.

There is a lot of pure joy in him – the joy of childhood innocence. I can only imagine a 10-year-old is almost the same and, with hormones starting to kick in, slightly more confused. Why would anybody attack an innocent child?

And why put Barron Trump in the same sentence with homeschooling? He is not even close to being homeschooled. Instead, he attends an expensive private school. That’s the reason his mom decided Barron should stay in New York through the end of this school year. When he moves to DC, he will probably attend another private school.

My speculation is that the SNL writer is as liberal as it comes and liberals do not like homeschooling. They think homeschoolers are awkward, weird, unsocialized, deprived children. Since Barron looked a little detached, awkward, and bored during the proceedings, she probably made the connection with the homeschoolers of her own imagination.

Most homeschoolers I know are polite and articulate. They relish public speaking and competitions. They work very well in group settings and go on to a rewarding college experience and successful careers.

Last but not least, that Tweet mocked school shootings. One of the reasons why people homeschool is because public schools are not safe anymore. The increase in bullying and violence in schools has convinced many moms to put their careers aside and keep the kids home, where they can be educated in the safety of their family’s nest. I am one of these moms.

I am glad to see that the American public is reacting to Rich’s Tweet enough that she has had to delete it, then make her account private, and finally suspend the account altogether. Here’s hoping that SNL and NBC will do the right thing and fire this bully of a writer who is not very funny after all.

Spelling Bee

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We attended our first Spelling Bee and it was a lot of fun. My son got out in the third round, but he said he enjoyed himself and wanted to come back next year. As it is, he finished in the middle of the group, which is not bad for his first time and for being a third grader.

A Spelling Bee is simply a great experience in public speaking, recalling information you have learned, working under pressure, using your knowledge of phonics to tackle a new word, and thinking on your feet. I have written here before that vocabulary is the only proven predictor of future success.

BHEA Spelling Bee

My son, second from the right, pays attention during the BHEA Spelling Bee in Maryville.

I was glad the organizers had prizes for all the children participating. Even though it was a good experience for all, receiving a goody bag as soon as they got off the stage took the sting out of the loss for many of these children.  Continue reading »

There were some other special prizes for the three children who came in first, second and third, as there should be. I believe in rewarding effort and superior skill. But it was very nice that all children received a little something for the effort of signing up and showing up and humoring their moms. Yes, that would be me included!

This was the Blount Home Education Association (BHEA) Spelling Bee and it is considered “school level.” The winner goes straight to Regionals, which happen in Knoxville. The winner of Regionals goes to DC. So yeah, it would be a big deal to win the BHEA Spelling Bee one of these years.

We are just thankful that we got started with the experience. My daughter, who is in first grade, attended and enjoyed watching. She told me afterwards that she wanted to participate when she would be of the right age.

I was glad to see that they were OK with the pressure and did not think bad of the experience. On the contrary, they learned a lot from it and wanted to build on it in the future.

The Spelling Bee, which happened in a church in Maryville, TN, was attended by 13 brave children. A big thank you to the organizers, a team of moms and their teenagers, who have won the BHEA Spelling Bee in years past and have come really, really close to qualifying for the nationals. Hats off to you ladies for the hard work you put into this event and for giving our children a great learning experience!

Orchestra Portraits

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The night of the Gatlinburg wildfires, my children and I were in Knoxville for their last orchestra practice of the year. That was the night we picked up their orchestra portraits and some merchandise we had ordered: a car magnet for me, which says “Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestras;” two mascot lamas, and sweatshirts with the orchestra logo and roster.

Girl with violin

With everything going on since the fire, I have barely had time to enjoy these things or to blog about them. A life-changing event like a national disaster sure puts things into perspective. Nevertheless, as things begin to align toward a new normal, we have time and energy to feel the pride of having joined the youth orchestras this year. Continue reading »

I first heard about the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra in 2006, before I became a mom. I met one of the homeschooling families from Sevierville and all their children played the violin in the orchestra. Something came alive inside of me. I made a mental note of it and thought what a great opportunity to experience and learn music this would be for any child.

Boy with violin

A decade later, I am a proud orchestra mom and have a car magnet to show it. I don’t know how you feel about car magnets proclaiming different things like “My son is in the Navy” or “My child is an honor student at Whatever School.”

Personally, I think car magnets encourage others to go for excellence, to attain higher standards, and to perform on TV instead of sitting on the couch watching others perform. I did not purchase my car magnet to brag. I want to inform others about the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestras and to inspire parents and children to look into classical music.

Practice Test

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Sometime in January, both my children had to spend 45 minutes in a private school for a practice test, when they were in first grade. I could sit in the back of the room as long as I was completely silent. Many of us parents chose to do so and I know we all learned a lot through the experience.

Cat on a child's jacket

Our cat does not have to test. He just sits pretty on whatever jacket he can find on the floor.

The teacher up front read the test to the students question by question, explained how they are to think through the four answers given, and showed them on the board how to bubble in so that the computer reading the test results could pick it up.  Continue reading »

This is a preparation for the actual test which happens in March. The practice test is optional and so is the actual test, in first grade. But we chose to do it with both our children. We think it is good practice for the coming years.

Here’s the thing about testing: we don’t do much of it at home, because we do not think education means teaching to the test. But we chose to test the children once a year in an official setting so that our minds may be at ease that they are doing well on standardized tests and that they are not lagging behind their peers.

During the day of the actual test in March, parents are not allowed in the room. But for the practice test in January, as above, we have that option.

In Tennessee, homeschoolers must register under an umbrella school and follow the guidelines of that particular place. The umbrella school we chose only starts testing in second grade, with this optional first grade test and a practice test two months prior.

They have noticed that children who first come to do a practice test in January experience more ease and less anxiety in March for the actual test, which makes perfect sense. Tests and competitions are part of life, whether we like it or not. Homeschoolers who avoid tests at all costs may regret it later on, although it is a tough decision if your child experiences extreme test anxiety.

Thankfully, my children are not that way. They have some butterflies before a test, but who doesn’t? I don’t believe in shielding children from responsibilities and tests and competing against themselves or the computer or other children. It’s not the real world. But I do believe in preparing them well for tests.

The First Snow

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For the first time this winter, it snowed. It happened on a Friday night. We woke up on Saturday morning to a foot of snow and the children could not contain their excitement. It was therapeutic for all of us to see Gatlinburg under a white blanket of snow, after the shock of the citywide fire in November. We were snowed in, so we took advantage of a day off and just relaxed.

Snow on trees

We love it when we get snowed in.

And so we rejoice that life goes on and snow comes and covers charred structures, grass, bushes and trees. I don’t mean to get all philosophical on you, but the children’s play in the snow conjures up more than just childhood memories these days.  Continue reading »

Here’s a short video of our children sledding. It was so cold, we only allowed them 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon. When I say cold, I mean cold. Is 15F cold for you? It is for me. That would be -9.4C. Brrrr!

The following day, the temperature went down to -4F which translates to -20C. The snow was not melting, the kids were having fun, and I was having flashbacks to my three years spent in Sweden, when -20C happened for weeks at a time. As long as we have power, water, and the pipes don’t freeze, we can handle this. That’s all I am saying.

The incredible thing is, I hear birds. Even in this cold weather, they are out there, singing and doing their thing. By birds, I mean song birds, not crows. Of course there would be crows in winter. But bird songs? It’s lovely.

One foot of snow on the picnic table

One foot of snow, at least

The other day, we saw a buck in our front yard. This was before the snow. He came back the next day and we have not seen him since. It all happened too fast for me to take a picture. Plus, the moment was just pure magic. There’s something about these wild creatures that come so close to our habitat, about 10 feet from the house.

There’s something about the encounter between us and them, not to mention how beautiful deer are to begin with. And those antlers… What does all this have to do with homeschooling? Just that it is winter and if you should happen to have snow, please know that it is OK to do less school and more playing outside if the temperature allows it.

My Word for 2017

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“Onward” is my word for 2017. It came to me in an email from a friend who was inquiring about housing for a friend of hers, who lost her home in the Gatlinburg wildfires. When I told her we had already rented out the condo once we moved back into our home, she thanked me, added a few niceties, and ended the email with “Onward!”

Pioneers in Romania, 1986

Pioneers in Romania, 1986; source: Wikimedia Commons

It totally took me back to my childhood. In Communist Romania, school children were “Pioneers” – a scouting organization of sorts. Our motto was “Onward!” We used to have regular assemblies and the Pioneers’ Leader would say, “Pentru gloria poporului și înflorirea României socialiste, pentru cauza partidului, înainte!” (“For people’s glory and Socialist Romania’s flourishing, for the Party’s cause, onward!”) and we would answer, in a chorus, “Tot înainte!” (“Onward still!”)

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So silly. It sounds both silly and surreal looking back on it, not to mention that it gives me chills to think that I went through such a regime. For this reason, “Onward, Christian Soldiers” has never been one of my favorite hymns.

However, once that friend put it in an email after we went through a national disaster and historic fire, the word changed its meaning. It became a good slogan, a positive slogan, something survivors mutter under their breath, after having thought they would lose their lives together, in the fire. So onward we go.

This new year starts with several challenges for us on the home front, as we still need to do some remodeling at our house after the wildfires. But our routine has been so drastically interrupted, we need to get into a better routine before we get disrupted again by spring break.

We are still waiting for our insurance to settle our claim satisfactorily. The same is going on at my husband’s hotel, Zoder’s Inn and Suites. It’s a long story, one that is still unfolding. Maybe I will tell it when it is over.

Homeschooling is going well. The children are growing and I have learned the yearly routine by now: testing in March means that we focus in January and February (with some breaks for sanity if needed) and then in April and May we are home free or, at least, we are in the home stretch. Spring break will happen after testing, during the last two weeks of March.

Then summer will be upon us, with camps and leisure and library visits. And, hard though it seems, August will roll around before we know it and this time I will have a fourth grader and a second grader. My, my. I am coming up in the world.

Hopefully, through it all, we can continue all the routine of extracurricular activities: orchestra, violin, piano, tae kwon do and soccer. The kids have asked for tennis and swimming but we have no time. Period. I told them something has to give and they don’t know what.

And then it will be Christmas all over again, and a new year, 2018. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s to a studious, prosperous, and happy new year, 2017! Onward, onward still!


Full credit for the picture: By G.B. – Personal files. The copyright holder granted me permission to upload the photograph to Wikimedia Commons and release it under the following Creative Commons License., CC BY-SA 3.0,

5 Tips for Mothers Going Back to College

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Going to college and graduating with high honors is a challenge every one of us has to face. However, this challenge is often much greater for homeschooling mothers and single parents who want to get back in school after years of inactivity. But, there are some useful tips every mother or parent can follow to make sure that their back to college experience will be a fruitful one. Here are five tips for parents going back to college.


Consider Getting an Online Education

Online courses are sometimes the best option for busy parents. Not only are they affordable, but they allow you to work from anywhere and anytime you wish. Also, online degrees aren’t as useless as many people think. Some online degrees, such as an online degree in counseling are as valuable as any degree obtained from a traditional school. What’s even better is that a certified online master’s in counseling is perfect for any person who wants to improve their parenting skills. Other popular online degrees among single parents include nursing, education and engineering.


Think about Child Care

One of the most difficult issues parents have to deal with is childcare. In these cases, your support system can be of great help. Don’t be afraid to ask friends or family members if they can help with childcare, even for a fee if possible.


Schedule Your Time

Scheduling can be difficult when you have school and children to juggle. It’s very important to block out time for school, work and homework. Also, make sure that you display your schedule where everybody in the house can see it so they can have an idea of what you’re doing at all times. Time management can be tricky, but a good rule of thumb is that you will be need to work 2 to 3 hours outside of class for every hour you spend in class, so make sure you keep that in mind.


Don’t Overwork Yourself

Parents often have to juggle work, family and their studies when they go back to school, which can be a huge challenge. For this reason, it is important that you limit work to fulfill your obligations. Anything more than 16 hours per week would be detrimental to your studies. If you absolutely need to work more than 16 hours to meet your financial needs, consider getting fewer credits.


Don’t Feel Guilty

Don’t feel like you’re neglecting your kids to go to college. The time you will be spending in college is dismal in the lifetime of a child. Make sure that you explain why you’re going back to school. They’ll eventually understand that it’s ultimately for the good of the family and they’ll become your biggest supporters.

Going back to school is never easy, especially for parents. But, if you follow the tips in this article, the experience should be much easier. Remember to consider online courses, plan for things such as childcare and work, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if necessary.

Tuesday Tome Week 52 – The Talent Code

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We had to read The Talent Code during the month of October at the Anna Porter Public Library Group Book. The author, Daniel Coyle, traveled all over the world to talent hotbeds: Russia for tennis, upstate New York for violin and other instruments, Brazil for soccer, Costa Rica for baseball.

The Talent Code

The subtitle says, “Greatness is not born. It is grown. Here’s how.” So the whole book details how a small tennis club in Moscow can produce more Top 20 female tennis players than all the American tennis academies combined in the last decade. And how all these other places can produce the best violinists etc in the world. It turns out, they have similarities, the talent hotbeds.  Continue reading »

The coach or teacher is usually somebody older than 60 years old. Somebody who has seen a lot, who does not have small children to tend to at their own home, somebody with a lot of patience, but also somebody who will not let you off the hook if you make mistakes – somebody who does what Coyle calls “master teaching.”

The Russian kids will not even touch a tennis ball for the first six months or so of training. They only work with their rackets, learning the motion of service and others. That’s right. They swing in the air hundreds of times a day, hours upon hours.

The violin players – that’s a different ball game altogether, but you can recognize the principle of deep practice there, too – the second principle of building greatness and cultivating talent, according to Coyle. These are Suzuki players, and in the beginning they don’t even have an instrument. They listen to the songs they will eventually play over and over again, until every sound has been ingrained in every fiber of their being. Then, they start holding a cardboard violin. After six months, maybe they will graduate to an actual violin and a bow.

The other principle is ignition or intrinsic motivation or passion. A lot of children will not persevere through music lessons or tennis practice unless their parents make them. But then comes the moment – and many children can identify that moment – when something came up on the inside, like a light that got turned on. They started liking their instrument, their sport, their hobby. They started more then liking it. They started loving it. And the more they love it, the more they practice, the better they get, and the more they practice, because they see the results of their hard work.

Brain research has shown how talent is just a very thick layer of myelin, wrapped around the neurons. Practice makes perfect, but practice has to be deep practice – perfect practice builds myelin. For instance, if you can recognize the song a violin player is playing, he is playing it too fast. And there are other things which I will not detail here.

It’s a fascinating book and I loved it, but most people at my book club did not, for various reasons. To each his own. This book inspired me to be even more careful with the habits I am allowing the children to develop in their practice whether it be violin, piano, spelling or math.