Using Your Noggin

Mindware has some nifty card sets available that have won some awards – when I see stuff like this I think, “hmmm – maybe we should get some of these, you know, just to have around.”  Each deck contains 30 cards sporting trivia, multiple choice and true/false questions about a variety of subjects.  Mindware happens to package the decks in sets of six, or they can be purchased separately.  I did not check prices on Amazon, but they might be available used.  I always try to check eBay and some homeschool co-op websites – sometimes you stumble upon just what you were looking for!  Here are some of the card sets:

Professor Noggin’s History and Geography Card Games

Professor Noggins Science Card Games (set of six)

Nature Card Set

I’m going to investigate the history card games a bit further being that we’ll be working on American history in the fall.  I bet the nature card series would go over well for rides in the car/longer trips.  These could be entertaining at the dinner table, too – for the whole family.

Noggins are useful for all sorts of things and all noggins can benefit from well-crafted educational games.  Noggins probably like to have breaks from electronic stimulation and all those video screens!  At least that’s the theory I’m going with over the summer – wish me luck.

Unfortunately, the video game lure is strong over here and I have to stay on my toes to keep everything balanced.  It is challenging for me to set limits on Max lately, mostly because I have my head in other places, I’m cleaning up the house, tending to the garden, washing a dog, what have you.  When I look up, he has cleverly noted that I am NOT PAYING ATTENTION and he has furtively pressed the “on” button on the Wii.  During the school year I set a strict (tongue-in-cheek) limit – no electronics until after 5 p.m. when school is wrapped up and preferably, not much video game time at all.  I make a concerted effort to keep him otherwise occupied with friends, playing outside, playing a game, or perusing the entire Calvin and Hobbs anthology.  I can generally hold the video game monster at bay if I’m tuned in and brandishing a big sword.  I wonder how many other moms feel this way.  Generalizing, but I think most dads like to indulge the video game habit as they might enjoy playing video games themselves.  I kind of have a guttural and unpleasant reaction to too much screen time – call me a pansy, but somewhere deep inside me I think too much electronic stimulation is ungood.

Yesterday I had my head down and was butting my way through piles in the house, trying to rewire my genetic code and make it and the house more orderly.  I was deep into piles of mail, piles of dishes, piles of animal bedding in cages that needed cleaning.  I made good progress, but Max is equipped with 3G Mom-dar and can accurately pinpoint where my focus is centered.  He jumped back and forth from the Wii to the computer and filled his day with flashing screens.

Not that video games and screen time is all bad – it isn’t.  I swear, because of video games, he has the dexterity of a surgeon and his problem-solving skills make mine shamefully skitter for the nearest rock to hide under.  His imagination is stimulated, he is moving when he uses the Wii, and we sometimes play together, although his dad is much better about that.  I don’t cotton much to video games and just plain fail to get excited about them.  I guess it’s all about balance, as with everything else – keeping video game time balanced with other activities that engage kids to use their noggins in other ways!

Check out what Professor Noggin has to offer – if not for the summer months, then for next year’s school year when you need a little something to have fun with and encourage learning.  Take care of those noggins and use them well!



The Banshee in Me Lives – eek!

When I first began blogging about homeschooling, I distinctly remember issuing a statement that can be summarized as such, “I am not a homeschool pusher.  There are many ways to achieve an education, homeschooling is merely one of the options.  It’s a fit for some families and not for others for a variety of reasons and I respect everyone’s choices”.  I was trying to remain neutral and thought this the best stance so as not to make anyone angry or sound like I know what is best for everyone, because I certainly do not and should not profess to.  Plus, at the time, that feeling was authentic and true; that’s how I felt and made a blanket statement.  Every parent or guardian has the right to choose how to go about educating a child scholastically and I did not draw the homeschool card often in people’s presence.

Now, with one crazy and wonderful year of homeschooling and oodles of research on homeschooling materials wrapped up and tucked in my pocket, I have noticed a bit of a zealot-woman lurking about my person, peeking out of the shadows to poke me – and frankly, she startles me!  Who invited this banshee with the mouth?  Well, not really a mouth, but let’s just say she has LOUD THOUGHTS now and then, thoughts that are hard to ignore and some almost make it past my tongue.  I know better than to shout the loud thoughts out when she lets loose; I know how to utilize my built-in filters, thank you.  Filters are lifesavers and should be heartily employed!

I struggled to reign in the banshee this weekend while visiting with a friend and talking about her son and some of the issues he struggled with during his most recent year of middle school.  We are up in the mountains taking in some high altitude air this week and my dear friend and her boys came to spend the night and have some fun in the sun (which they did).  Several times during the 24 hour period they were here my radar tuned in to a few statements that the child uttered and my internal alarms sounded.  I ‘felt’ from this child that he is troubled about parts of his life and that he is beginning to see himself through the eyes of his peers, namely in a very negative way.  His mom confessed that although his teachers have been supportive of him, he has not made any friends and that he is bullied verbally often by his classmates.  Yes, his parents have addressed the bullying and have taken steps with the administration to get it to stop.  This child was born quite prematurely (at 26 weeks, I think), and has continually struggled with learning disabilities and some other health issues.  If you had the pleasure of spending any time with him, you would know that his heart is spun from gold and that he has much to offer and much to become.  Some of the things he said while he was here helped me to realize that he is angry and hurting and scared and sad.

The banshee in me practically screeched “PULL THIS CHILD OUT OF SCHOOL IMMEDIATELY AND HOMESCHOOL HIM!!”  After the filters were applied, it came out more like, “would you considered homeschooling him?” gently to his mom.  Mom has been on board with that option for quite awhile and wants to do it; she and I have talked about it before.  Dad is skeptical and probably feels that Mom is not up to the task; I’m not sure that Dad really understands how homeschooling can look – I think he may have preconceived notions about it based on stereotypes.  Mom also said, “I don’t think we have the smarts to homeschool him”.  At that point I grabbed my banshee, hog-tied her and sat on her, because she was really ramping up and I feared how strongly my words might come across.  I said something like this – “oh, honey – you taught your child everything from the time he was a wee one – how to walk, how to tie his shoes, how to string words together into sentences, how to count, how to say his abc’s.  You are more than capable of teaching him and working with him.  You know him like no one else does and most importantly, you are tuned in to his needs.”  And besides, the types of homeschool curricula that are available to middle schoolers are staggering.  Most middle schoolers are at a point where they can work more independently and can probably engage in many online classes.  His parents could hire a tutor for areas where he struggles.  They can tailor his school work to his needs.  Above all and most crucially, they can give him back what he needs right now, and that is an environment of total love and acceptance.  Homeschooling him would put an end to the bullying and allow him space to find himself.

If I ran the world, this child should be homeschooled.  It makes perfect sense to me and is such an amazing fit that it should not be overlooked.  Should is a very strong word and is overused, but in this case I think it is warranted.  The mom has asked for my support in approaching her husband as far as putting together some materials that she can present to him to start the conversation.  I will unleash the banshee on this task and help Mom make a case to her husband, fully knowing that in the end they will choose as they see fit for their son.  My line is right there and I can’t cross that boundary into their family.  They have to do what is best for him and I’ll honor that.  Got it.

This whole interaction this past weekend has served to crystallize my feelings about homeschooling, and I guess I’ve scaled them up a notch or two since I started blogging.  Although, I still maintain a healthy level of respect for families who choose a more standard form of education as in public or private school systems, every now and then (as in yesterday), I see a child whose has a puzzle piece laying out there exposed, without the matching piece anywhere in sight.  This child is open and vulnerable, not connected.  Sometimes homeschooling is the corner piece that needs to be set into place to help stabilize a child’s world and allow him or her to blossom.

I’m also a ‘fixer’ and want to repair broken things – mostly hearts and injured animals, I guess.  There is an elk up here that has been paying visits over the last few days.  She looks to have broken her right foreleg and does not bear any weight on it; it hurts to watch her hobble back and forth up the hill and I wonder about her.  None of her buddies seem to be hanging with her – she seems alone and I wonder if this is her choice or a herd choice, or if her being alone means nothing at all.  The fixer in me wants to arrange to have her tranquilized and moved to a rehab center where she can heal and then be released again to live out her life.  I wonder if that’s possible.  Maybe I’ll call the DNR tomorrow and see if they think I’m crazy.  Maybe it’s just nature’s way and I shouldn’t intervene.  Years ago my husband hit a doe that ran out into the road.  I was behind him and honked to try to get his attention so that he would see her careening down the hill toward him.  He didn’t, they collided,  and she flew quite a distance and landed on the other side of the road.  I was out with her in a heartbeat and held her head in my lap to try to calm her down, hoping that it didn’t stress her out, but she was obviously in shock.  I won’t tell you how the story ends because it wasn’t pretty, but her suffering did come to an end humanely.  I so badly wanted to fix her and get her back to the meadow.  I feel a similar need to help ‘fix’ this situation with the middle shcooler and get him back on some positive feet.  Homeschooling has set a strong precedent in similar situations for other families and children; may it do so here.  Crossing fingers that Dad will give his nod of support so they can go about the business of helping to boost their son’s self esteem.

Different Kind of Schooling

Officially we are on summer break, but one never stops learning.  Even if stranded in a small enclosed gray and bland cubicle, you’d probably learn SOMETHING.  Not sure what, but maybe which of your toes is the longest or fattest.  I don’t know, but you get my point.  I’m often baffled about how much there IS to learn, if you really set out on that task. 

Max is attending a summer camp, which is great on many levels.  Since he and I spend nearly 24/7 together, this break from each other is most welcome.  We don’t really spend 24/7 together, but when homeschooling your time together is certainly more concentrated.  I have a little breathing room to tackle some projects like painting walls and staining a deck, Max has an opportunity to get out in the great outdoors and find out what’s out there!

Day three of camp and he’s exhausted.  So far he’s been mountain biking, hiking, swimming, bouldering, has played tennis, has had open gym time, has done some arts and crafts, and has worked in a garden.  He’ll go Euro bungy jumping and rock climbing yet this week.  I’m almost jealous!  He hits the pillow and is out pronto.  Such a life! 

It’s a different kind of learning.  He’s learning about how to move his body, how to have fun with what nature offers, how to appreciate green things, how to work as a team, and how to make new friends.  It was neat walking in to camp this morning and the boys turned toward us and said in unison, “hi, Max!”  Makes me smile. 

Balance is important for homeschooling families.  Balance is important in all aspects of life, really.  For moms who put together lesson plans, gather materials, sit patiently with their children while they struggle over math problems, organize field trips, get lunch on the table, keep the house picked up, do the laundry, feed and walk the dogs, look after the rabbit, rats, birds and hamster, exercise regularly, tend to the garden…….. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!  Well, a lot goes on!  That’s precisely why I am reveling in this time.  Max is happy.  I am content.  It’s all good.  I’ve even had time to dig into some books about keeping chickens – that’s next.  Nuts, huh?  Maybe I shouldn’t be allowed these breaks because that’s when I plan the next crazy adventure.  Hmm.  Something to think about.

So, I’m Judging a Math Curriculum According to the Sound of a Guy’s Voice?

Far be it from me to rely on first impressions – hah!  The Teaching Textbooks math program has arrived on the scene here in our house and SO FAR SO GOOD.  Greg Sabouri, an author of TT, is a fun teacher with a very pleasant voice.  How’s that for using instinct to key in on what works?  Kind of silly, really.   But Max is enjoying the lectures (which are short and sweet), and he’s cruising through the practice problems.

Since Max detests math worksheets, the TT format, for him, is brilliant.  All of your work is done on the computer screen with the click of the mouse and the use of your neural pathways, the ones which conjure up the answers to ‘what’s an addend’?  and ‘what’s the communicative property of addition?’  Not hard because all you do is place yourself in a chair, make yourself comfortable, and hit the play button to get the CD rolling. 

We’ve started with Math 4, even though we just finished up 4th grade.  Back to the beginning, more or less, but I did this for two reasons.  The first several lessons are EASY and he will experience success with these.  Plus, it’s important to go back and fill in those gaps with a little math caulk before moving on to next year.  My sinister plan is to continue with a lesson a day through the month of June and then officially embark upon some summer fun.  We aren’t doing any other school-related activities other than math for the next month.  He should be able to stomach that (I hope). 

So, Mr. Sabouri’s voice is friendly and fun, we’ve got nothing else on the school docket for the month of June, and Max loves to be in front of a computer.  I am optimistic that Teaching Textbooks will save the day – at least it will quell a lot of the anxiety I’ve had about math.  Hmm.  There’s a statement – Max probably felt my anxiety all year long (of course he did) and my anxiety probably made his math anxiety worse than it needed to be (of course it did).  See how much you really learn while homeschooling????  Maybe it should read, ‘see how much you learn while parenting’.  This homeschooling venue is a fascinating place for parents and children alike.  As long as we pay attention to stuff like that, I think we’ll be just fine. 

Thanks, Mr. Sabouri, for putting together what looks to be a stellar math program that fits my kiddo’s learning style.  And thanks for having a very nice voice.  Off to a great start!