Story of the World, Vol. 3, Chapter 6

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The last time I blogged about Story of the World and our adventures in history was in October. That does not mean we have done done history. In fact, today we covered chapter 34. I suppose you can say I’m a bit behind in blogging about SOTW. My apologies. I will do my best to recount our efforts and catch up in the next couple of months.

Chapter 6 dealt with new colonies in the new world: Plymouth Plantation and New Amsterdam. For our craft, we made cornbread based on the recipe provided in the Activity Book – an original Wampanoag recipe with modern ingredients.

Wampanoag Cornbread

Wampanoag Cornbread

I modified the recipe a bit: soy milk instead of “milk,” vegetarian margarine (we like Smart Balance) instead of “margarine,” and honey instead of sugar. The one egg needed in the recipe can be replaced with Egg Replacer, of course. Even with all the substitutions, the cornbread came out well and everybody enjoyed it. I made some vegetarian chili and a cabbage salad and that was our lunch.

The kids loved to hear the story of The Mayflower all over again. We have covered it every year around Thanksgiving and they remembered some bits. The thing is, I don’t harp so much on dates and details. Maybe I should. The way I learned history was dry and fact-oriented and I want them to get into history through the avenue of a story.

Continue reading »

I had good history teachers, but the way they taught us was via a textbook. Here are the five reasons why the peasant revolts happened in 1907; memorize the years when King Stephen the Great reigned; now list the seven outcomes of World War II. I never understood why people got interested in history. What was the big deal?

Cornbread in pan

Cornbread in pan

Well, now that I am older, I look at history differently – as a story. I think that Susan Wise Bauer inspired me in that way, but I grew into this experience organically, through my fascination with royalty and by watching period dramas like ‘Downton Abbey’ and, more recently, ‘Victoria.’

You get the story and then you start asking questions about the people, the times, the inventions, and the government of the era. You get answers by Googling, by looking things up in a history encyclopedia, by listening to music from that time, by buying a history magazine etc. And then you know more about what happened and why. You discover you love history because it is so fascinating to hang on to the story.

That’s my strategy with the kids and I think it works because my son declares he loves history. My daughter – not so much, but she is still young. When my son was my daughter’s age, he was OK with history, but he would not declare his love for it.

Youth Symphony Winter Concert

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The Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestras held their Winter Concert on February 13, 2017 at the Tennessee Theater in downtown Knoxville, as usual. My son’s orchestra, Preludium, played first. Their two pieces were March of the Meistersingers by Richard Wagner and Eine Kleine Nachtsmusik by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Boy walks with his violin at Tennessee Theater

Our son after playing with his orchestra

The other three orchestras – Philharmonia, Sinfonia and the Youth Chamber – also played that night. The top youth symphony orchestra played on the following Monday, on February 20, along with the Concerto Competition winners. We live one hour away from Knoxville so we excused ourselves from attending the concert on the 20th. The kids love classical music but they get bored by sitting in the audience for more than 45 minutes and these concerts last for at least one hour.  Continue reading »

I did not want to drive for two hours both ways only to sit in the audience and shush them down every two minutes. I know they need the opportunity to practice sitting down and being quiet, but I think we do pretty well by attending our regular concerts when one of them is on stage or the professional concerts for children by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra plus church events. One must draw the line somewhere, otherwise we would be all over the place.

So on the 13th, when our son was on stage, we had a lot of fun taking in the sights and sounds at the Tennessee Theater again. For me, there is no greater joy than to see my children make music. I am proud of their other achievements but there is something about music. I wish I had gone further in my own music efforts as a child and so I naturally want my children to go further than I did. It’s the classic syndrome of a parent’s unfulfilled dreams which get passed onto the children.

My children enjoy music and they hum while they play throughout the day. They even hum while doing their math. Do they complain about having to practice daily? Sure. But they are slowly learning that quitting is not an option and skipping practice is not an option either. If they had to choose, they would probably stick with piano and ditch violin, but I will not give them an out. We have invested too much in this endeavor – it would be a waste.

Therefore, we press on, and participating in orchestra actually helps them enjoy violin more. They get to be with other children and receive that gentle peer pressure from having to keep up with their stand partners. They belong to a group who plays string instruments and I think it helps them stay motivated to practice. By building skills, they build confidence and enjoyment ensues. We look forward to receiving their new music for the spring concert, which will be in May.

Adventure Science Center in Nashville

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When we went to Nashville recently for TeenPact One Day, we also spent some time at the Adventure Science Center. That place is so big, your child could spend hours in there and not get bored. In the process, your child would be learning all sorts of science concepts hands-on.

Boy and girl play at Adventure Science Center

Sending parachutes up to be released

One can, for instance, lift a car with the help of a lever and fulcrum. The famous Aristotelian quote is written right on the lever: “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Continue reading »

There is a piano you can play with your feet and an organ you play by covering holes with large cylinders. If your children are over 45 lbs, they can experience Moon’s gravity in a harness and try to moon walk. My son kept talking about the experience weeks after he did it, even though he did not master the squatting. Apparently, one must squat as soon as your feet touch the ground.

Upstairs, there is a large hall about the human body. You learn about the different parts of the brain by actually walking into a brain. They have a grossology game which is exactly what it sounds like. They ask you questions on a screen about the excretory function and you get to answer by pushing buttons, against three other contestants, or alone, if you prefer. Children love the topic, of course.

Adventure Science Center in Nashville

Body heat screen reacts to their movements

They also have a large water table to demonstrate the flow of blood in and out of the heart. Children can manipulate small gates to close and open different paths for the water. Of course, they make up their own games and forget all about the circulatory system. They are having fun and moving about and learning a little bit about the four chambers of the heart though.

In the planetarium, we were able to catch a documentary about solar eclipses, produced right there in Nashville. It was so fascinating, I was sorry I fell asleep ten minutes into it, but I suppose I am more tired than I think I am. At least I know the children enjoyed it very much.

If you are a teacher, you get into the Adventure Science Center for free. Just make sure you bring your homeschool educator ID if you have one from your local support group.

TeenPact One Day Class

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For the second year in a row, we traveled to Nashville for TeenPact One Day. This is a seminar for homeschoolers ages 8-12 during which they learn about government, civics, politics, how bills become laws, and how they can help a political campaign even before they have the right to vote. They also get to tour the Capitol and see where the State Senate and House of Representatives meet.

Mom and son in front of the Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville.

Mom and son in front of the Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville.

They learn a lot of history in the process, too. The staircase inside the Capitol bears bullet marks since the Civil War. Busts of Andrew Jackson and Sequoia along with paintings of former governors beg to be noticed. It would be impossible not to learn at least a little something about history in this place. Continue reading »

Last but not least, homeschooled children get to interact in a group setting and make friends. During the Capitol tour, which happens right before lunch, my son and another little boy from Knoxville struck up a conversation and then decided they should sit together for lunch.

TeenPact One Day

My son gives his speech as his campaign staff hold signs behind him.

Lunch happens in the cafeteria, as there is not enough time to leave the premises. You either place your order ahead or you wing it with the options they have. Even for a vegetarian, I found their buffet to be great and, at $5, it does not break the bank.

Tennessee State Senate

Looking onto the Senate hall

The staffers in the classroom are teenagers from all over the nation. This year, my son’s class leaders hailed from Alaska, Nevada, Tennessee, and Florida. The cost is only $35 and the seminar lasts from 10am until 4pm.

TeenPact One Day

Tired at the end of the day, but proud of his certificate

Once your child reaches age 13, the option is to take the full TeenPact program which lasts Monday-Thursday, the same week as the One Day program, which happens on a Friday.

We recommend the experience to all families who have conservative values and want to raise a child interested in government and politics. Our son thoroughly enjoys it and our daughter looks forward to being old enough to attend.

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.

Continue reading »

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.