End of the School Year

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It is almost the end of May and this means summer break is here. We do not homeschool year round, although learning never stops. Children are naturally curious and they will learn even if I don’t record it as a school day.

Boy and girl holding homeschool certificates of completion

First grade and third grade certificates

We have some summer camps coming up: art, orchestra, app making, manners, soccer, swimming, archery – all these activities involve learning. I have not yet decided if I should count these days toward their next school year. This past school year, I did. But it almost feels like cheating. Continue reading »

School should not be a dreadful thing, but life is not always pleasant and school is supposed to be a preparation for life. Life’s duties must be done however tiresome they might be. And, sometimes, school work (or learning) can be tiresome and frustrating. That’s part of “real life.”

You know how public school parents chide homeschool parents for not giving their children the “real world?” They are wrong. The real world contains lots of opportunities for being lazy when not under supervision – that happens at home as well as at school; for doing hard things – that happens at home as well as at school; for covering up your mistakes instead of admitting them and learning to make better choices – that happens at home as well as at school. I could go on and on.

Back to my topic: another school year is behind us. I printed out a certificate of completion for each child, filled out their grade and name, the date, my signature, and I snapped the picture above. Each child has a cumulative file at our umbrella school and also one at home. Every year, the certificates end up there, alongside their curriculum list and attendance record.

The kids have grown in every sense of the word. I have grown a few more gray hairs. I don’t want to say that I have grown and developed more patience, for instance, because as soon as I say that something happens and wham! I lose my temper – proof positive that it is time to eat humble pie.

I have relaxed a bit though, I am thankful for that. I am my own worst critic and can be very hard on myself. Going through a few natural disasters has loosened me, I suppose. Here’s to a great summer break! I will keep blogging through the summer about our various activities.


Green and Pink Smoothies

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Lately, I have had a lot of fun making smoothies for us. That blender gets washed every day, I tell you. That’s because it gets used every day. It is such an easy thing to do and yet it took me a bit to get on the bandwagon of this food trend. You don’t need a cookbook either.

Raspberry and cocoa parfait

Raspberry and cocoa parfait (or smoothie)

A couple of years ago, I read a cookbook about kale. All the recipes included kale in some form. It overwhelmed me. I tried a few kale smoothies and other kale recipes, but I did not get inspired.

Well, something happened this year. Not sure what exactly, but one morning I just felt the courage to get the blender out and here’s what I put in it: 1 cup of rice milk, a cup of spinach, and one banana. Continue reading »

I could drink the resulting smoothie, but my children asked for it to be sweeter. Enter the second banana.

Kale Smoothie

Two bananas, some spinach, fiber, and milk

So with 1 cup of rice milk, 1 cup of fresh spinach leaves and 2 bananas I make enough smoothies for the three of us for lunch. There are days when I don’t feel like eating a salad, but I know I need my greens. By the way, I may have poured more than one cup of milk. If it gets too thick for your blender, just put more milk. You cannot hurt it.

Green smoothies (kale, rice milk, bananas)

Green smoothies (kale, rice milk, bananas)

Of course, you can do other combinations. For instance, I put one teaspoon of fiber (husks) in there one day. You could put flax seed etc. This recipe is just an example of how easy it is to drink your spinach (or kale) and not gag. We need our greens, friends!

Now, for the pink smoothies. I found a great recipe on Forks over Knives, which I modified slightly for my own taste. The taste is great and it is almost like a parfait. If you let it sit overnight in your fridge, it will thicken and have the texture of a parfait. Otherwise it will be a smoothie and you can just drink it. One thing is sure though: both are delicious.

Show these recipes to your children and record this as “Culinary Arts” or “Science” in your school records. “Cooking Lab” is another label, of course. In Tennessee, homeschooling legal requirements are not that stringent but I keep records of things we do for my own benefit.


Prince Albert, Homeschooling Dad

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After watching Victoria on PBS for a few weeks, I was very interested in learning more about Prince Albert, her husband. My local library carries The Uncrowned King: The Life of Prince Albert, the most comprehensive biography of Prince Albert, written by Stanley Weintraub. I read it after watching Weintraub’s lecture about the book on YouTube.

Uncrowned King: The Life of Prince Albert

The most comprehensive biography of Prince Albert – I learned a lot from it

Through it all, I learned that Prince Albert was a wonderful homeschooling dad to his nine children. Albert and Victoria enjoyed 17 years of a happy marriage until his unfortunate death at the relatively young age of 42. Prince Albert wrote about his children’s studies extensively in his diary, which makes him a blogging dad by modern standards. So what kind of education did he give his royal children? Continue reading »

We know that he taught some of the subjects and for others he hired private tutors. The children had their own garden plots at Osborne House, the royal family private residence on the Isle of Wight. They tended to their farm animals. They also took piano lessons, French, German, Latin, history and math. How to write and read English was taught as well, of course.

As they grew older, they learned to fish, shoot guns, and hunt with their father. The girls learned to embroider. Special attention was given to art: painting with watercolors and sketching, as well as art appreciation. The royal couple had an impressive art collection for the children to enjoy.

Prince Albert was a Chancellor at Cambridge University and brought about educational reform in that institution, based on the standards of German universities that he had attended or visited. Until his tenure, Cambridge did not teach science or any history after medieval times. As you might imagine, he had an uphill battle with the academics of his time, but he managed to improve the curriculum.

After the first World Fair, The Great Exhibition of 1851, which Prince Albert organized through multiple committees, he was able to use some of the money earned through tickets to buy land in South Kensington, in order to establish a series of museums and institutions of learning. Known today as “museum row,” that area of London continues to be one of the most visited places in the world.

The other part of the money was placed in interest-bearing accounts in banks. The interest earned by that money is used to this day to foster learning and support scientists and artists. Another Prince Consort handles those funds today: Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband. Several Nobel laureates and famous artists have benefited from the funds which can be traced down to Prince Albert and his Great Exhibition.

In those days, corporal punishment was part of the normal way of educating a child, so yes, he administered it. Other than that, we cannot find much fault with his homeschooling.


Art Field Trips

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Now that the standardized test is behind us, we can have some fun with subjects like foreign languages and art, which I tend to de-emphasize in the months leading up to the test. We visited two art museums recently, to get our art juices flowing: Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg and the Knoxville Museum of Art.

Girl looking at digital art

My daughter looking at digital art, in Knoxville, at the Museum of Art

At Arrowmont, we caught the tail end of the juried exhibition from Sevier County residents. We live in a community full of talented artists. It was inspiring to see all the different pieces and media.  Continue reading »

Arrowmont displays their permanent collection and then temporary exhibitions. The museum is free and they also have a library filled with art books and magazines. On Wednesdays, volunteers come to cull through their collection and discard what is not needed anymore in the school. They fill up a bookshelf with giveaways or heavily discounted art books.

Boy and girl at Arrowmont

My children at Arrowmont

I picked up several free beautiful art books and a $1 large coffee table book on London. How would you like to travel to London for $1 and not worry about terrorism, flight inconveniences and jet lag? With such a book, one can.

The children enjoyed the art and got a lesson in art marketing. They were shocked at the prices of some of the pieces. The most expensive one was $16,000 and most of them were in the $300 range.

In Knoxville, the Museum of Art is also free. They have a Children’s Corner filled with art books for children, a Brite Lite wall, two art easels for drawing, and many craft opportunities. While their gift shop offers pricey items, I have also found some of their offerings to be the same price as Amazon or Walmart. If you are watching your budget, the gift shop is not a bad option for some of the art products they carry.

Girl at KMA Lite Brite Wall

My daughter at the Lite Brite Wall

Play sticks are available in the Children’s Corner

The permanent collection upstairs houses, among other things, Catherine Wiley’s beautiful Impressionist paintings – my favorite part of going to KMA. I discovered Catherine Wiley’s paintings of motherhood and women six years ago, when my children were in diapers. Wiley’s depiction of motherhood helped me transcend Pampers and Huggies.

One of the temporary exhibits is an interactive, digital art display on loan from the Thoma Foundation and the other one is a beautiful collection of abstract art by Jered Sprecher, a UT art professor. His “Respiro” and “Calling” spoke to me in a personal way. The first one reminded me of Ramazzotti’s “Respiro nel blu” and the latter reminded me of homeschooling, because I feel called to do it.

"Respiro" by Jered Sprecher

“Respiro” by Jered Sprecher, at KMA

"Calling" by Jered Sprecher, at KMA

“Calling” by Jered Sprecher, at KMA

Art museums, for me, represent these spaces where I get in touch with parts of myself I do not usually see or feel. I talk about “art therapy” and that is because I feel more complete or aware or healed when I come away from these places. On a more specific note, I think that we are still healing from the shock we suffered in November with the wildfires, so yes, we need some art therapy.

The children love everything about the visits: the art books, the art corner with its manipulatives, and the exhibits. At KMA, the Thorne Rooms offer a collection of miniatures that delight them. I enjoy looking at them as well and they came in handy, after all the history lessons we had recently. These dioramas show actual living rooms from medieval Spain or Victorian England or the American Frontier.


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.

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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.


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.


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….


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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5252771


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.


Merry Christmas!

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We are home for Christmas, which was our contractor’s goal after the wildfires and the damage at our house. But our house is not completely fixed yet. The wood flooring has to be replaced all over the house due to water damage after a tree fell and punctured the roof in several places, followed by rain that night.

Christmas at Downton Abbey

Christmas at Downton Abbey is a 2-CD collection of traditional Christmas melodies sung by some of the cast members from the iconic TV series and others

We are thankful and counting our blessings though. The children opened presents earlier in the morning and were very excited to receive new things to build and play with. We draw strength from their enthusiasm and childlike excitement.  Continue reading »

We had dinner at home and my husband’s mom came over with her husband. I cooked a simpler meal than at Thanksgiving: vegetarian turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, walnut gravy, salad with Olive Garden dressing, steamed corn, sweet potato casserole, and pumpkin pie. We drank different Martinelli sparkling non-alcoholic ciders. Christmas at Downton Abbey played in the background – my favorite Christmas collection for two years now.

In other words, we had a good Christmas dinner, like many of you, I am sure. I really enjoy being at home, in my kitchen, laying a nice tablecloth on the dining room table, and seeing my family eat. It’s the simple things in life that bring us the most satisfaction.

As far as homeschooling, we started a Christmas break last Wednesday. For the next two weeks, we will only cover Bible, violin and piano. The children have received lots of new toys and books to engage with and I need to decompress after a very busy year. Don’t we all.