September Summed Up

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The kids are doing great. We've cut out TV almost all together for the past few weeks and have noticed a major improvement in attitude and behavior. We didn't throw out TV out or anything, we just positioned it in an awkward location of the family room, where nobody really wants to sit. We also just consciously don't turn on the TV; only occasional educational videos, like Flo's learn to tell time DVD, and a family movie night once and awhile. They weren't watching unlimited TV before, but even just having PBS on for a couple hours in the morning, and then movies several nights a week, just started to seem like maybe that time could be used more productively. I read something that said if kids get "bored," but then just plug into TV, even seemingly kid-friendly programming, they miss the opportunity to tap into that feeling of boredom, which is often the catalyst for creative ventures, such as drawing, reading, talking, writing, etc. So, we just decided to unplug them for awhile, and so far, I'm impressed with the changes.

September started off with my cousin's wedding in Boston. It was a real adventure, though not a very relaxing vacation. Flo really enjoyed the whole wedding extravaganza, as she got to be a flower girl. Joe didn't quite fulfill his duties as ring bearer, but he looked cute in his tux, anyway. This was the first time I have seen my dad's side of the family in years, and it was nice for my kids to get a chance to meet them.

While in Boston, we had an afternoon of down time between wedding events, and decided to check out the Barefoot Books store. I signed up last year to be a Barefoot Books "stallholder." Of course, I've never sold anything, and managed to acquire quite a personal collection of their inventory. The kids' favorite book is Herb, The Vegetarian Dragon. So, they were excited to see that they had the Herb bendo (Gumby-type figure) at the store. We got one and then proceeded to drive away. Within two minutes, they were fighting over poor Herb. So, we gave Flo the option to go back and get her own Herb if she paid for half with her allowance money. Now we have two Herbs. One of them has gotten the ears pulled off of it, so now they fight over whose is the one with ears. We just can't win!

On the way back from the wedding, we stopped for a couple nights in Conneticut and got to visit with an old homeschooling buddy of Flo's, Sage. I think they barely just remembered each other, but they had a brief reunion, and we enoyed visiting with Sage's parents and meeting her siblings, as well. I originally met Sage's mom, Jolene, at a La Leche League meeting when Flo was just a few weeks old. It was that group that actually sparked my interest in homeschooling, as I wasn't really even aware of the possibility before having Flo.

We also happened to visit Whole Foods Market in West Hartford during their "Kids Day" event. Flo was visiting with my mom, but Joe got to go around the store filling up his goody bag with all sorts of fun samples. He even managed to get a goody bag for Flo, which made her day. We also got to see a brief performance by Steve Roslonek (Steve's Songs), which we thought was coincidental. Steve is my cousin, Kim's, brother-in-law, from the Boston area. We saw a couple of his shows when Flo was really little and we were living in Connecticut. His CD was a staple for car tunes for quite awhile. Lots of fun!

On the trip home, we had planned to stop in Phildelphia, but somehow ended up breezing through Deleware, missing Philly altogether. Thus, we thought we might stay the night in Baltimore, but being that it's only about ninety minutes from our house, we just walked around for awhile, enjoying the harbor in the evening, had a coffee, made a potty stop, and wrapped up our trip on the evening of September 6th.

We spent a day winding down a bit after our trip, venturing out only once to submit the kids passport applications for the US and Canada. They enjoyed having their photos taken by the lady at the post office and watching her use the big paper cutter thing that slices the photos in quarters. The next day we had to get right back into the swing of things, as it was the first week of September, and sign-ups for most homeschool and extra-curricular activities were that week. We decided to try one activity for Joe, so we signed him and Flo up for classes at The Little Gym, which is new to Hagerstown. Joe's first class was a disaster, culminating in him being carried, kicking and screaming out the door after being asked to leave. However, the next two weeks have gone well, and I was approached by a staff member who said after reviewing their policies for the toddler classes, that they are supposed to be a little more liberal with the young kids, allowing them to explore and not necessarily follow every instruction, as long as their not disruptive or hurting themselves. Also, Joe remembers having to be carried off, and apparently enjoys the class and doesn't want that to happen again. So, so far, so good.

Wednesdays are busy with the gym class in the afternoon/evening and a homeschooling "Learn to Skate" at the local ice skating rink in the mornings. Darren's usually off work on Wednesdays, if he's not working over-time, so he's gotten to go skate with Flo a couple times, and seems to enjoy himself. Surprisingly, with his ankle problem, skating is one of the few exercises he can actually do with any vigor, because the skates really support his ankle. Thus, he is using the "free skating" time during her class to get a little workout. I decided not to sign Joe up for a class this time, as it was basically a waste of money last session. He's apparently a perfectionst and doesn't like that he has to fall a lot to learn to skate. He is under the impression that when he gets bigger, he'll magically be able to skate better. He usually goes out on the ice, moves around a bit, falls, and is done for the day. Nonetheless, we keep going through the routine of putting on the skates and giving him the chance to try again. Maybe one of these days, he'll just keep going.

Flo is also taking a homeschool art class out in West Virginia (only ten minutes away). A lovely lady teaches the class in her home, and so far Flo's created some real masterpieces. We have a short break after art class on Tuesdays, then we head to downtown Hagerstown for Flo's yoga class. She has taken classes with this instrutor before at a different location and I think she really benefits from them. I was happy to see that another class was being offered, as I've had a difficult time getting kids yoga classes going in this area. Apparently there's only one other little boy in the class, but that's okay. Semi-private instruction, right?

Flo is finishing up the first level of the Funnix program, and is really coming along with her reading. She's also started doing the lessons from the Draw Write Now series, which incorporate art and practicing handwriting. It's something she can do independently, and she seems to quite enjoy it. This month we also read the first book in the Nancy Drew series; The Secret of the Old Clock. Then we went back to the book Magyk, which we started a few months ago, but Flo didn't really seem to be into it, so we set it aside. Now she's bringing the book to me every night, eager to find out what's going to happen next. So, apprently, her comprehension skills have improved over the summer.

Joe really loves books. We've noticed since reducing TV time that he's particuarly interested in being read to. His favorite book of the month is Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback. Between Flo's obsession with it last year, and Joe's new interest, I've read the book so many times, I'd have no problem reciting it aloud. Along with reading lots of books, Joe has suddenly taken an interest in the computer. There is a great reading website, called, that Flo used occasionally when we were first starting to work with her on reading. I would occasionally use it to show Joe the letters of the alphabet, too, but we hadn't looked at it in months. I brought it up the other day and started showing him some of the letter games, etc., and within a few minutes, he had grabbed the mouse out of my hand and was navigating through the letters himself. Yikes! That happened entirely too fast. I guess computer literacy starts early. Nonetheless, I have to hover nearby to ensure he doesn't click on something and end up on some adult site. But, so far, it really seems to engage him.

As for reading instruction, it's been a topic of discussion lately amongst some of the homeschool moms in our group. The debate is over which approach to teaching reading is best; whole language or phonics. This discussion prompted me to research more about it, considering we've already been using a phonics-based program for almost two years. Yet, we've actually used a variety of methods, as we've done a lot of the easy-reader series, and a lot of reading stories and some sight-word flash cards. I've come to believe that though the method is important, there are many other factors that determine whether a child will be a good reader. I think the parent, or reading instructor, has to be aware of what works for the child. Also, reading needs to be portrayed as a fun, positive activity, not something that must be done. I find that just in the past few months, Flo's interest in reading has really increased, thus her reading ability has improved. A lot of her motivation to read has come from finding books that interest her (like books about fairies), but that are usually way beyond her reading level. She'll just keep at it, asking for lots of help with words she doesn't know, until she figures it out. I think this is the natural progression of learning. Anyway, it's the nature of the homeschooling parent to investigate the possibilities, and I think Flo is on the right track, enjoying reading.

Math was another area where Darren and I have both worried a little bit about which approach to take and whether to pick a specific curriculum, or just trust in our ability to cover the basics, just through day-to-day activities. So, we've decided to lighten up a bit and stop worrying. We got a program called Noble Knights of Knowledge, which is essentially math-based games with story themes and colorful pieces. Flo loves it and we've been surprised with what she already has acquired without any formal instruction. Math was never a positive experience for me, and I really don't worry about the level at which my kids will perform when they "graduate" high school. What I worry about is that they enjoy the process of math, feel confident in their ability to learn what they want or need to know, and can seek out opportunities to do so. Of course, I'd like to provide them with the fundamentals, and do my best to make it fun.

So, that's pretty much everything for this month… lots to think about.

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