Catching Up, Thanks to a New Reader

Hi, there!  It’s been a while.  I have so enjoyed the response to this blog and thank so many readers for reaching out to me over these past few years, especially as I have not posted publicly in so long. … Continue reading

Here’s What I Would Have Said if I was on HuffPost Live Yesterday to Talk About Homeschool Regulation

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Before we get to it, Happy New Year!

I woke yesterday to an email requesting me to participate in a discussion on HuffPost Live on whether Homeschooling needs more regulation. I think this article in The New York Times prompted the segment.

By the time I got in touch with the associate producer who had contacted me, they had lined up their guests. Maybe next time!

If I had gotten the chance to speak with Nancy Redd, the moderator, here’s what I would have added:

Regulation of homeschooling is enacted state-by-state. The states vary in their level of regulation to a preposterous degree. So to ask the question “is there too much regulation?” lacks an understanding of the landscape of Homeschooling law. Some states don’t even require notification.  Some require only notification. Some require notification of homeschooling, as well as test scores, and/or professional evaluation of student progress. There are still others that also require home visits, curriculum review, etc.

Here’s my moderate one-line answer to that polarizing question: I think some states (the ones with high regulations) over-regulate and others (the ones with no regulation) don’t.

The education of a child involves many competing interests: the child’s, the parent’s, society’s, school districts’ (including principals and teachers), and those of the education industry.

Society has a vested interest in how we parents prepare our children for citizenship. Ideally, our children will grow up to be law-abiding, productive members of their communities. If not, society pays the price via the criminal justice system or social services. I respect that interest. As a member of society, I share that interest!

Parents have a fundamental right to prepare our children however we see fit. Our right generally trumps society’s interest. I wrote about that here.

Children, of course, have rights to basic needs like food, universal state-paid education, health care and criminal laws appropriate for the age and development of the child, and equal protection of the child’s civil rights. Parents’ rights are important and deserve respect, but children’s rights are equal and deserve the same level of respect.

Schools and companies don’t really have rights either, but they do have interests, mostly financial. I personally don’t care about those interests. One of the reasons we homeschool is because we want our kids to be participants in an educational process rather than commodities in the education industry.

How do you deal with all these competing interests? My view is that there should be checks and balances. I know. Not very controversial. That’s probably the real reason I didn’t make it on to the panel!

Scales, Weights, Measures, Gold

In my view, homeschooling parents have a right to educate our children however we determine is best, using whatever method we deem appropriate. But I do think that states should 1) know that our children exist and 2) have a method to check up on a child if a valid concern is raised.

I do not believe that states can offer me a cadre of experts to tell me what “success” is for my children. If I did, I’d send them to school.  I do, however, believe that there are some basic competencies that I have a duty to help my children achieve. I welcome support from the state because I am assuming and hoping that it has my child’s best interests at heart as well. Of course, if I find out that they do not, I will fight tooth and nail to protect my family.

How does this look? I think New Hampshire is a model state for achieving a balance between these interests and rights.

In New Hampshire, parents must notify the state once but then it is assumed that homeschooling will continue for the rest of a child’s education. The notice is simple and easy to do.

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The map and plans from a recent trip to Philadelphia. Perfect for a portfolio!

Thereafter, we homeschoolers are expected to

1) keep a portfolio of our children’s work and progress (the portfolio can include anything and everything from reading lists, to workbooks completed, to photographs, to drawings, to tickets to museums, etc. It is simply meant to be a reflection of how they are spending their days in the event an issue arises); and

2) have the child evaluated annually either with a standardized test, an evaluation of the portfolio by a certified teacher or a teacher currently teaching in nonpublic school, or using a mutually agreed upon method with the appropriate participating agency.

Find more information about New Hampshire Homeschooling laws here.

The portfolio and testing results are the property of parents and parents do not have to share the results unless an issue arises.

I believe that if you are homeschooling with your child’s best interests in mind, you would welcome these regulations.

One of the gifts of homeschooling is that I know my children very well. I can tell you at any point in any day what their strengths and weaknesses are at that time. I know they are thriving. I don’t need the portfolio or testing to tell me this. And they don’t need it either.

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Clearly thriving.

Nonetheless, the portfolio keeps me on track and fills me with pride and happy memories as I see how we are spending our days and the standardized tests scores give me comfort in knowing that my children could get back into the murky waters of our public school system any time.

Public schools have checks and balances with parents and boards and the public scrutinizing every move.  Private schools have checks and balances with parents and boards too.  It is only fair that homeschoolers have checks and balances as well.

Regulation is supposed to be a means toward an end.  That end, in my mind, in this case, is a child’s best interests. Any party to the situation can abuse their power, but that is a discussion for another day.

A Gentle Reminder That The Youth Digital GIVEAWAY ends Friday

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If you are not interested in entering, then please just enjoy this moment with my favorite 6-year-old.

 

If you are interested in entering the Youth Digital Giveaway for Mod Design 1 (value $250) click on the Rafflecopter link on the right side of my blog (the one that says “a Rafflecopter giveaway”).  There are two ways to enter:  you may visit Youth Digital’s Facebook page for one entry and/or follow them on Twitter for a second entry.

If you win, you will be emailed a voucher for the course that you will be responsible for redeeming for your completely FREE course from Youth Digital.

I will be drawing the winner on 12/12/2014.  If you win, you’ll be contacted by email.  If I do not get a response within 48-hours, I will draw another winner.  Good Luck to everyone!

 

On Making Meaning: My Favorite Post From This Last Year

Happy Thanksgiving!  As I sit here in my kitchen, waiting for my family to arrive from New York to start a new holiday season, I can’t help feeling a bit nostalgic.  Things are changing this year.  The Thanksgiving celebration on my side of the family has gotten smaller.  The location of the Christmas Eve gala on my husband’s side is moving to the next generation.  All of the grandchildren are out of diapers this year (thanks, JohnJohn)!  And the first of the grandkids is getting married in May.  Time marches on and torches are passed.

I wrote this piece about a year ago and still come back to it when I need a reminder of what is important.  I hope you have a great Thanksgiving and that you make lots of meaning this year!

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These are not stuffed mushrooms.  Well, they are.  And so good that I ate almost ½ a tray by myself.  But they are way more than bread, onions, mushrooms, garlic and spices.  For, you see, I helped make them with my sister-in-law for our Christmas Eve feast just as she has been making them to bring to Christmas Eve for over a decade.

She’s been making them so long that I don’t really remember Christmas Eve without them.  Just as my husband doesn’t remember Christmas Eve without at least seven fishes and dozens of family members of every age and sometimes friends coming together for the day.  Like so many other families, my husband’s big Italian family holds Christmas Eve as the most hallowed of days.  It is not just about the birth of Christ, although we are primarily a Catholic family.  And it is not because of the presents even if the presents are pretty fun.  And it is not really about seeing each other.  Most of us see each other pretty regularly.   It’s not even about food, although, admittedly, we do all love to eat.

OK.  It is about all those things.  But it is so much more than that.   I have learned since joining my husband’s family over 15 years ago, and especially since having my three children,  that it is really about the extra special effort that every single member of the family makes every single year to prioritize that time together and to hold it sacred above all else.  No matter what.

They make that day and that time mean something special because of all of the effort that goes into it. It’s  Nana and Grandpop, who start shopping for stocking stuffers for all 13 grandchildren in October, review and prepare menus in November, and set tables weeks ahead of time (OK, Mom, if you’re reading this, I know it is probably only a day or two ahead of time ;)).  It’s the aunts, who cull Christmas lists to get their “something special” for each child, one of whom manages to find matching pajamas in every size from 24-months up to men’s medium.  It’s the kids, who give up time on their “idevices” and really do try to look and behave their best for their elders, even if it means wearing a skirt instead of jeans.  It’s the fact that every person there is there on purpose to be together and they prepare for it and look forward to it all the year through.

Sometimes I worry that Christmas is too commercialized and that as a parent I am a puppet of the major kids companies targeting my children.  And sometimes I fret that I spoil my kids when we perpetuate the myth of Santa Claus even a little bit (we don’t really do it full tilt).  And then I think of those crab cakes.  And talking to my mother-in-law mid-December as she and my father-in-law are making pecan rolls, debating whether this year they are, in fact, the absolute best they ever made.

My mother-in-laws Christmas cookies. Said pecan roll, which was the best she ever made, on the left.

I picture each of us at our tables wearing a rainbow of paper crowns unfolded from their crackers, glasses aloft, mouthing “cent’anni” as my father-in-law leads the toast.

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My son, most definitely not listening to anything, not even Grandpop, but looking very cute in his crown.

I remember how it was at Christmas Eve dinner when my father-in-law shared the news with the whole clan that my husband and I were expecting our first baby and I can still hear the raucous cheers that followed.  I laugh at my son counting the kids and the stockings to see if they really match up as my daughter writes out each name in a neat list.  And I reminisce about how, when I first joined this merriment, the oldest of the grandchildren in this family were still in diapers.  Those babies are now in college.  And last year, as I watched my oldest niece stuffing mushrooms with my own daughter, it finally dawned on me.

Whether you believe in Jesus Christ or Santa Claus or someone else or nothing, it is up to each of us to make the Meaning in our lives.  And like every other good thing I am trying to teach my children, it takes work.  It takes effort.  We can do it alone but it is easier if you have other people to help you.  If you are lucky, like me, you find people who work as hard (or harder) than you to do it.  And if you are really, really, lucky, like me, those people will also happen to make a wicked stuffed mushroom.

 

JohnJohn, When I Think of 2…

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I’m waking you up with Sonic The Hedgehog cupcakes, glad that Daddy takes off from work for all our birthdays, and that all five of us are together today.

I laugh at how Daddy, in trying to give you a more “grown up” name this year, came up with “Grape Juice Juicy JohnJohn”.  Seriously, (I’m looking at you, Molly and Joseph), I cannot believe that it caught on!

When I think of 2, JohnJohn, I’d ride the rails with you again.

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I’ll shake my head as I recall the Big Mahoff, and his villain counterpart, The Puker, whom we all still see pretty regularly.  As Aunt Susan says, “that John sure is a PIP!”

I will do the conga all over again with Molly and Joseph as we watch you march off into your new pre-school with Miss Suzie.  Then I will carry my heart in my throat the rest of the day after Suzie calls me to tell me that you threw up.  Thankfully, that only lasted two days.

I will pity poor Joseph, as I count how many times I made him play “Ninjas” or “Star Wars” or “Smash Bros.” with you this year.  He’s  so good to you.  He deserves how much you adore him.

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I am blown away all over again at how, at Grandpop’s birthday weekend, you informed EVERYONE you met that you were getting Power Ranger underwear and wouldn’t need diapers anymore.  I still can’t believe that after I found the undies in the clearance bin at the store the next day, even though they were a size 6, you put them on and never wore diapers again.

Gosh, I’ll miss the day I don’t overhear Molly turning into a horse as you “morph-forr” her with your Red Ranger Morpher.

I can smell that camel from here.  As I should.  We’ve spent a lot of time with (and money on) Good Old Benny!

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I’ll read Molly’s birthday card to you and wish I had a sister like her.

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I’ll hear you yelling at the top of your lungs “I JUST WANT TO SNUGGA YOU, MOMMY!”  I’ll try to be annoyed because you’re yelling it while I am trying to take my first pee alone in days, but it won’t work.  Truth is, I just want to snugga you too.

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I’ll stop to think how fast this is all going.  You three are best friends.  My birthday wish for you is that you always will be.

Happy birthday, Grape Juice!  We are all glad that you were born.

Molly’s Mid-Way Update on Youth Digital’s Mod Design 1

We are about halfway through Mod Design 1, which I wrote about starting here.

As I wrote in my first post, Youth Digital promises this course will teach kids to program their own Mod (an alteration of the program code of a video game in order to make it operate in a manner different from its original version).  In doing so, students also learn the fundamentals of Java Programming.  Yay!

As I also mentioned in my first post, Youth Digital gives students 365 days to finish a course, which has really made this whole course stress-free.  Molly really likes that she is in complete control over when she does the sections and how quickly she moves through each section.  She thinks it is especially cool that she can do them later at night (her best time of day), in her pajamas, wrapped in Bucky (her special blanket/BFF) with a Ninja-Turtle mask on, if she wants.

Time for coding class, Kiddo!

Time for coding class, Kiddo!

Here are our mid-way impressions:

PROS:

  •  The videos are very entertaining.  There’s an appropriate amount of humor targeted to her age.
  •  The videos contain suggested times to pause and carry out coding tasks.  These are generally well placed – not too short or long a time between pauses.
  •  Molly has enjoyed the selected modding tasks.  They are small and thus, simple to do.
  •  The difficulty of the tasks seems appropriate so far.  The structure is well thought out, with each lesson building on the previous.

In sum, Mod Design 1 is a very practical, task-based, learning activity. It’s building Molly’s practical computer science skills, like being careful with typing and syntax (computers have no mercy for typos), cutting and pasting, window/graphical user interface management, mouse skills, etc. She is also becoming comfortable with basic coding concepts like using named variables and objects to define how things work.  She’s learning how to be creative, while also being careful with her coding.

CONS:

  • The quizzes are occasionally too GIMP and keyboard-shortcut centric.
  • The templates have contained two coding errors so far.  These were straightforward to fix with adult help, but were frustrating for Molly alone.  She really doesn’t like to ask for help!  Back on the PRO side, though, Youth Digital offers excellent customer support.
  • The fact that Molly is already eying up App Design 1 and Game Design 1, reminds me that Youth Digital courses are, although worth it in our opinion, pricey.

ONE LAST COMMENT:

So far, as billed, this is a “show me how, then I do it” class with little “20,000 foot view” discussion.  We like that.  It is actually teaching Molly Java.  If theoretical discussion of computer science fundamentals is what you’re looking for, another course might be better.  For learning the Java basics in a fun but structured way, this course is the way to go.


Wondering if this is an advertisement?  It is not.

I have not been compensated for this review.  As I mentioned in my first post about Mod Design 1, I contacted Youth Digital to ask if they would be willing to let us try it out in return for a review on my blog.  They haven’t asked for any additional reviews, nor did they have any control over either review.  I just think this has been a great find and want to share it with you.

On Running and my Beautiful Daughter

You may remember from some older posts that I am involved in a running challenge this year.  I am running 40K of races for my 4oth year and blogging about it with some friends at Girls Gone 40.

This week it was my turn to write about “why I run”.  I was so touched by the response to the piece.  After hearing from some other parents, I realized that the post belongs here too.  It is as much about being a Mom as it is about being a runner.

Happy Mother’s Day, all!

 

Why I Run

The first time I went for a run just to run, my father was dying of cancer.

Dad had been given 6 months to live and so in those hot, wet, summer months when I lived with him for weeks at a time, I took up running.

Running was simple. I didn’t think about it or plan for it. I had no goal. I certainly didn’t blog about it. I just laced up my sneakers one day, went out into the neighborhood and ran the streets, trying to catch my breath.

I didn’t do anything right. I stared at my feet. I clenched my fists. I held my arms tight up against my body. I didn’t even wear a sports bra on those early runs (I’m sorry, boobies).

But, I did it. I remember thinking, as my lungs burned and my feet ached, “I’m running because I can”.  My Dad couldn’t, that’s for sure.  I didn’t know what a mantra was but I repeated that mile after mile.

And I thought “Shit. This hurts.” Sometimes I cried through entire runs shedding grief and frustration. Those runs gave me big freedom and big choice, even if the choice was choosing pain that I could control.

After my Dad died, I grieved him by training for the Philadelphia Marathon. I needed something to look forward to and I needed time to think.   Why not?

During the marathon, at mile 16, I broke my foot (a stress fracture), but I finished.

I tried to run a half marathon about a year later but my foot still wasn’t right and I re-fractured it (but finished, again).  I fractured my foot a third time and realized I should maybe take a break from running.

Then I had kids. For the past 7+ years, I have been too exhausted and too afraid to run. I have gotten soft. And round.

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I BLAME YOU, BABY!

 

When Rachel suggested running 40K for her 40th year, I jumped on it because I irrationally thought that if I could get over the hump of starting, I’d be the runnergirl I was in my twenties again. I’d run because I could. I wouldn’t have to think about it. I would just do it. We’d do it together. And we’d turn my fear into fun, one race and one margarita at a time. Though never long and lean, in my mind, GirlsGone40 would give me the body and the endorphins of “runnergirl”, with the race bibs to prove it.

That’s a lot to put on running. I know. First I used her to comfort me in the worst loss of my life so far, and now I expect her to help me find my way back to a place I haven’t been in almost a decade!

When I started running again in October (and calorie counting, and trying to change other habits), instead of thinking “I’m running because I can”, I thought “I’m fast and fit and long and lean. I’m fast and fit and long and lean. I’m fast and fit and long and lean!” All I could think about was how I was going to “crush the miles” and get smaller.

Over and over, for the first 4 months of this challenge, even when I wasn’t exercising, it was all I could think about. That mantra, instead of motivating me on the treadmill, became a harsh trill in my ears the rest of the time, reminding me how I was failing because I wasn’t losing weight. I wasn’t getting even one size smaller.

Instead of lifting me up, my relationship with running became complicated. I mostly just felt bad about myself. And really embarrassed that at 39 I care so much about being “thin”.  I’m usually judging the fattists out there for being so judgmental. When did I switch teams?

Rachel was having a hard time getting motivated too and so I thought about letting the blog and the challenge go. In my mind, I had no good reason to run. Weight obsession is a small, small world. And I wanted to get back to my big, rich life. It was still pretty painful getting back into shape and the mental baggage was messing with my head.

Then Molly, my 7-year-old daughter, one day, asked to run the rest of my races with me, telling me her “goal was to run 20K before she turned 8”. How could I say no to that?

Molly doesn’t care about weight loss. She doesn’t care about being “fit.” She has no desire to change habits. Luckily, she has no losses to grieve. She does not care how long it takes her to run a mile or if she walks when she needs a break.

Molly runs for one reason: She just wants to be with me.

We’ve run three races together so far, a 5K, a 5-miler, and 4-miler.  Mother’s Day will be our fourth race.

When we are out there together on the course, or running laps around my house, Molly laughs. Sometimes she skips.  Or hops.  Or leaps.  And she chats about her dreams from last night. She imagines us winning our next race. She designs t-shirts to go with our matching running skirts. She plans entire meals to eat when we are finished. She chants quietly “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” Sometimes she switches it to “I am awesome. I am awesome. I awesome.”  In our last race two women overheard her and joined in.

Molly’s made running simple for me again.  It’s not about the miles.  Or the minutes.  Or the calories.  Or being fit.   Or whatever ridiculous expectations I started GG40 with.  I run because I can.

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#1 Running Partner

The Firefly and the Castle Crewmember

Last week the kids participated in a full week at school auditioning and practicing for, and performing in their first school play.  Here’s Molly as part of the castle crew and Joseph as a firefly in The Princess and The Pea:

 

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Arts education matters.  If I could watch my kids work this hard, learn so much, and have so much fun – – especially if they dressed as fireflies with day-glo bellies – – I’d probably send them to school more often!