Happy Halloween

Pumpkin with a Brain. For instructions, click here.

Note: This column is printed in the October 31, 2012 edition of the Barrow Journal.

Once a couple creates a family, they realize that family life is full of harrowing moments and howls in the dark. Little monsters — ahem — Lovable little monsters invade their lives…

This will be my sixth Halloween with children, and in that time it’s become my favorite holiday.  The fact that it’s also my birthday might play a part in that too, but really, it doesn’t have the stress that comes with Christmas or Thanksgiving.  Stress shouldn’t come with any holiday, but unfortunately it does.  Halloween…it’s just fun.

The weather is beautiful. I love autumn temperatures, changing leaves and the opportunity to make soup. We can get outside frequently, do some gardening and pull out the hiking boots.

Costumes are fun, though sometimes a challenge.  At one-year-old, my sons were both too young to protest the pumpkin costume I made them wear.  As they get older, they are more opinionated.  At two, my eldest liked the Peter Pan costume I picked for him, but I knew better than to try to put anything over his head.

At three, he had his “not interested in Halloween” year.  The decorations in the stores scared him, and my husband ended up treating him to McDonalds on the night of Halloween while I stayed home to greet the trick or treaters.

Last year my three-year-old also went through that phase, and he wanted nothing to do with trick or treating or a costume. I don’t know which way he’ll go this year, but I haven’t bothered to buy him a costume. I can’t get him to wear long sleeves let alone a costume (and coincidently his brother dislikes short sleeves – go figure.)

My six-year-old is all into Halloween costumes now, and this year he made it easy on us by not having any pre-conceived idea of what he wanted to be. He just wanted to go to the store and look.  We were there quite a while and almost came home empty-handed. Why do costume makers think all little boys want to be super heroes?  My son is not into super heroes at all.

Finally I spotted something we had overlooked, and my son grabbed it right away – an extraterrestrial!  It’s a green costume with three-fingered gloves and a mask with big, black eyes. The torso has a faint outline of the internal organs of this alien. Simple, yet very cool looking.

All children should be encouraged to play make-believe, and I consider Halloween a celebration of that.  As with any holiday or ritual, each new family has to create their own traditions and meanings.  Sometimes we keep old traditions, tweak them, or change them altogether.  For me, Halloween is for the children.  It’s a chance for them to be whatever they want and continue the play as they step out into the community.

It’s also fun for me because I get to watch how excited they are, and I get to accompany them on their journey around the neighborhood – a good excuse to get out and say hello to the neighbors too.  The candy is another story, especially since I end up eating so much of it, but that’s a small price to pay for a day of play.

Here’s wishing you a safe and happy Halloween.

Worthy Reads

Homeschooling in the media

Rural Homeschooling on the Rise – Daily Yonder | Keep It Rural

The Last Radicals – National Review Online

Homeschooling an option for some – Geneva Republican

To Be Young, Gifted and Bored, Part 2 – GPB Blogs

Success requires balancing being right with being nice – Penelope Trunk


Homeschooling Resources

http://www.primarilyreading.com – Welcome to Primarily Reading where you will find free materials for beginning readers and later learners.

“most of what you think you know about writing is useless” – Wonder Farm – This is becoming one of my favorite blogs to follow too.

Critique with children – Project Based Homeschooling – I need to hang this up on my wall.

9 Creative Storytelling Tools That Will Make You Wish You Were A Student Again – THE Journal



A Is for Apps for Education – PCMag.com

Worst College Majors for Your Career – Yahoo! Finance

Helping kids cross the digital divide – CNN Radio News

My view: America’s students can benefit from Singapore math – CNN Schools of Thought – Does anyone use Singapore Math in your homeschool?  Do you like it? I’m thinking of looking into other math programs for us, so I’d like to hear comments.

How to Help Your Kinesthetic Learner Do Better in School – NannyPro.com

My View: The future of credentials – CNN Schools of Thought

My View: Should I know where I’ll be in 10 years? – CNN Schools of Thought

The rigor (?) of kindergarten! – The Innovative Educator – Yep, one of the reasons we’re homeschooling right now.

Attention Disorder or Not, Children Prescribed Pills to Help in School – NYTimes.com

Teaching What You Don’t Know – The Chronicle of Higher Education – “Teaching as a content novice, you are more likely to set realistic expectations for learners, to notice when they are breaking down and experiencing problems, and to pause and make adjustments in response—instead of marching dutifully from one end of the syllabus to the other, covering everything on your ambitious agenda.”



How to be a calm parent – Awesomely Awake – Great post by Shawn Ledington Fink. I think I need to hang it on my wall too.



How to Advance in the Workforce, Even if you’re a Stay at Home Mom – A Successful Woman

Dealing with Naysayers & Negativity – written by one of my favorite bloggers, Renee Tougas – outsideways – Excellent commentary for anyone who is dealing with criticism about their choice to homeschool!


I can’t possibly list all the articles on homeschooling that are popping up the media these days, and I can’t list all the interesting education articles, or parenting or other resources….so I leave it up to now: Please share any worthy reads YOU have found (or written) recently.  Thank you!

Backyard Adventure (not for the faint of heart)

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on September 26, 2012.

This past weekend our very own backyard provided us with an up close wildlife encounter.  My boys were playing in the backyard, and the way my son tells it, he was standing near our woodpile when he heard a squirrel screaming and a lot of commotion up in a nearby tree.  Right after that, the squirrel and a black rat snake fell onto the woodpile and rolled off onto the ground.

The snake and squirrel rolled a few feet from the woodpile and my son says our dog ran and picked the bundle up in this mouth but then dropped it again.  I guess that snake let him know he wasn’t welcome to have this lunch.  The black rat snake, which is a constrictor, was coiled tightly around a dead squirrel by the time my husband and I came upon the scene.

And you have to understand something.  A few years ago, I have no idea how I would have reacted to something like this.  I have been indifferent about snakes most of my life.  Neither have I feared them, nor have I given them much thought.  But now I have a six-year-old who loves them so much he wants to study them when he grows up. He already knows so much about them that he could easily identify this snake as it was falling out of the tree.

Now I have an appreciation for these under-appreciated animals that are important elements of our ecosystem.  Watching the rat snake eat a squirrel was a rare opportunity and a dream come true for my six-year-old.  The only time he stepped away from the scene was when he ran to the house to tell us what happened.

My husband and I stayed for most of the show too, and, of course, we videotaped and photographed it.  If you had told me six years ago that I’d lie down five inches away from a snake eating a squirrel, I NEVER would have believed you.

It took two and a half hours for the snake to eat his meal, but that was much faster than we thought it might take.  We tried to respect him by staying quiet and keeping a distance except when I took some photos, and once, despite my protest, my husband and son touched him lightly.  A snake is in a very vulnerable position when he’s got such a big meal in his mouth.

Black rat snakes are probably the most common snake you might see around here.  It’s the second time we’ve seen one in our subdivision.  According to the Savannah River Ecology Lab’s website (SREL), they typically grow between 3-5 feet, but they can get as long as six feet.  The one in our yard was about four feet long.

They are black on top with a faint hint of white between the scales.  Its belly is whitish near the head and becomes kind of checkered near the tail.  They can be found in the mountains and Piedmont areas of central Georgia and South Carolina, and they like a variety of habitats such as “rocky timbered hills, hardwood forests, river floodplains and swamp margins.” They also like abandoned buildings and barns.

They eat mice, rats, squirrels (yep!), birds and bird eggs.  According to the SREL, they love wood duck eggs.  Juveniles feed on small frogs, lizards, and small rodents.  Though I love some of the critters this snake eats, I know that they help keep the rodent population in check, and for this reason, I don’t mind having them around at all.  In fact, I welcome any snake into my garden as long as it’s not venomous, and the black rat snake surely isn’t.

It was interesting to watch the snake maneuver its mouth the squirrel and accomplish the difficult task of getting its front limbs into his mouth.  Snakes are amazing in that their entire skeleton pulls apart in order for them to consume such big meals.  Once he had reached the torso, he finished it much faster.  I couldn’t believe how quickly the squirrel moved into the middle section of the snake.

I can only wonder what that snake thought of us gawking at it.  The SREL says that when frightened, a rat snake will assume a “kinked” position and remain motionless.  They will vibrate their tail and expel a malodorous odor.  We didn’t see that behavior.  After watching us long enough, I guess that snake figured we didn’t want his meal, and his hunger was more powerful than any fear it may have felt.  My son sat by his side until he quietly took his bulging stomach and slid through our fence, hesitating slightly while he looked at us.  It was probably the most bothersome meal he had ever eaten.

Note: If you happen to read my column in the paper and you’ve been waiting with bated breath for these photos (lol), I apologize for taking so long.  It took a long time for me to put together this slideshow because my computer died and also I don’t like looking at them.  It was exciting in the moment…  I don’t get that same feeling reminiscing.  Also, though I have enough film to make a 77-minute video, I’m sparing you of that. Here is an under five-minute version.  I hope there are some other kids out there who will enjoy it as much as my six-year-old did.  It is fascinating. (In an icky way.)

Post Script: Using E-mail in Home Education

When I wrote my last column on using e-mail in our homeschool, I didn’t realize how beneficial one aspect of it would be, so I thought I’d add a little more about that.

What I’m referring to is sending my six-year-old articles that I find on the web that he might be interested in.  Sometimes my husband finds them too.  Mostly these are science-related articles having to do with animals because at six-years-old, that’s something he can wrap his head around.  The articles always have photos, and my son likes for me to read the text.

Sometimes I put it in more simple language, if I feel that is necessary, but sometimes I read it just as it’s written.  Even if some of it goes over his head, if he’s interested, it’s a good way for him to build his vocabulary and hear how articles are written.  Sometimes he asks me the meaning of a word, or we might do a google search for more photographs of the subject.  Perhaps in the future, these articles will spark an idea for a longer-term project!

I should also mention that we watch a lot of educational television, so my son is used to some of this scientific language and imagery.  If you want to try this, you’ll have to judge for yourself what you think your child is interested in and ready for.  You might want to experiment!

Here are some recent articles that my son received from my husband and me.  Feel free to snatch the link and show them to your children!

Feel free to leave more ideas on how to use e-mail or other technology to spark a child’s interest in learning.  As I come up with more ideas, I’ll be sure to share them with you too.  Thanks so much for reading my blog.

Using E-mail in Homeschool

View details     View details     View details     View details      View details

Math                            Reading                        Hiking                     Story                             Snake Project

Some of my favorite clip art that I found on Microsoft Office free images website that I use in e-mails to my six-year-old.

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on October 17, 2012.

In my last column “Using Technology in Home Education,” I wrote about an interview I heard with Fraser Speirs, a mobile education technology consultant.  According to his website (fraserspeirs.com), “Fraser works with schools and technology companies to enhance their approach to 21st century skills, teaching and modern technology provision.”

The interview inspired me to try to incorporate more technology into our homeschool, but by that I don’t just mean I’m going to have my child take classes online.  I want to use technology for productivity much like what Speirs discussed.

At this young age, I want to introduce different programs to my son so that when he’s older he’ll be able to complete and showcase his projects on the computer or another device.  This doesn’t mean we won’t use other means to showcase his work.  The computer will be one of many tools.

Right now I’m starting with the basics, and I decided to create an e-mail address for him.  (I opened it under my name.)  My other motive in using e-mail was trying to think of ways that might inspire him to want to learn to read.  It has proven to be very helpful to me, and my son enjoys checking his e-mail each weekday morning before we do our lessons.

Every evening, I compose a message for him with the next day’s date and our agenda for the morning.  When it comes to getting my son to cooperate with me, I have to let him know ahead of time what our plans are.  Writing the e-mail is a great way of doing this, and it’s been helpful to me to plan the day ahead of time.

Our plan of action is usually quite simple.  I alternate math and reading lessons Monday-Thursday. Then we work on a project.  I plan most of them, but my son initiates some of them.  If we have time, we do book time, but usually it’s time for lunch.

After lunch, he’s free to play for the rest of the day, but if we have any plans for the afternoon, I’ll inform him in the e-mail.  If we’re attending a class, going on a play date, or running errands, I’ll let him know at this time too.

He cannot read well enough to understand the written messages, so I include a lot of clip art for him.  For every subject, I find an illustrated drawing using Microsoft Office’s free clip art  and drag the thumbnail into the message in front of the bullet point.  I try to use animated clip art when possible because that’s more fun for the six-year-old.  I also use the same words every day in my agenda’s list in the hopes that’ll he’ll start to recognize these words.

The most helpful part of using e-mail is being able to include any links that I want him to see.  I’m a big fan of YouTube, and when I’m trying to reinforce something from our reading or math lessons, I’ll search for short videos for him to watch.  It’s easy to include links to these in the e-mail, and they are right there ready to go in the morning.

Occasionally my husband or I will come across an article on the Internet with photos – perhaps something about animals or scientific research – that we know our son would like to see.  I used to forget to show these golden nuggets to my son, but now I can just send him a link in an e-mail, and we’ll look at it in the morning before his lessons.  Sometimes these articles are starting-off points for further discussion and research, if it sparks his curiosity.  (I’ll talk more about this in my next post.)

I have also shared his e-mail address with a few close friends and relatives with instructions that short, simple messages and photographs are appreciated.  It’s always a treat to my son to receive something from someone besides my husband or me.

If there’s one thing for sure, technology is here to stay, and someday my sons will be competing for employment in a world that will have even more advanced technological capabilities.  As long as children are taught that it’s a tool and how to use it wisely and safely, it’ll give them an advantage to grow up using it.  Indeed, it would be a disadvantage to shield them from it.

Ladybug Pupa

We’ve been observing a lot of wildlife in our very own yard lately, though I think that’s because I have two inquisitive little boys who have the freedom to explore the yard often.  The other day my son was taking stems off our butterfly bush (because someone taught us how to propagate it), and he found something interesting attached to the underside of a leaf.  He came to me and said, “I think I found a ladybug pupa.”

I don’t even know where he learned that word, and I wasn’t sure he was right, but silly me, of course he was!  I looked up the life cycle of a ladybug on A Life Cycle App.  Sure enough, one of the pictures of the pupa stage looked exactly like what my son was holding in his hand.  It also said that it takes about one week before the adult ladybug emerges.

So, we put the sprig in a jar with a wee bit of water to keep the leaves alive, and we waited a week.  On the seventh day, we could see it moving.  On the eighth day, it came out!  It’s a yellow ladybug!

We took it back to the place where my son found it and released it.

What wild and wonderful things have you found in your yard?

Using Technology in Home Education

{Homeschooling and Technology}

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, October 10, 2012.

My husband told me I ought to listen to an episode of a podcast called Mac Power Users: Episode 93. This episode is an interview with Fraser Speirs, a mobile education consultant.  He works for the Cedar School of Excellence in Greenock, Scotland, and he’s also a writer and does public speaking about using mobile devices and technology in schools.  The Cedar School of Excellence was one of the first schools to give macs and then iPads to all of its students.

Obviously, it would be not be feasible for most schools, especially publics schools, to offer an iPad to every student.  The Cedar School of Excellence is a small, private K-12 school, but my husband knew I would find the ideas behind the use of technology useful in our homeschool.  I did, and I also think it could be useful for any parent who is involved I their child’s education and working with them at home.

Listening to Speirs talk reinforced my opinion that technology is not something we should shield children from. I know parents have different views on “screen time,” and I respect that. We need to set up boundaries for our children and use technology as a tool and not as a babysitter.  But our children are in a unique position to grow up with technology (something we never had), and someday they will be competing in a world with more advanced technology.  We parents need to assist them in acquiring useful skills.

I was impressed to hear that children as young as kindergarten age use iPads in the Cedar School of Excellence.  The device follows them throughout their education at the school, and the way they use it changes as they get older.

Speirs said they expected the younger grades to use the iPad more as a tool in which they would work through certain educational programs (called applications or “apps”) and that it wouldn’t be until grade Primary 5 that kids would use it more as a productivity tool.  However, they were wrong. Kids as young as Primary 2 – that’s 1st or 2nd grade here in the U.S. – used the iPad to create their own stuff.

Speirs observation of how young children can use an iPad does not surprise me. At two, my six-year-old was a master at my iPod Touch. Now I think he could use a device like the iPad or a computer for creativity, especially since there are so many educational apps for children available.

At one point Speir states,

“…we very much look at the iPad as a tool for expressing: for creativity and also expressing your understanding. So, if I’m teaching about some science topic, let’s say the planets, then one of the ways I can assess what the children have understood is that I can have them express their understanding through various creative tasks on the device.”

He goes on to explain that they also do assignments off the device.  They are not a paperless school.

I wish Speirs spent more time talking about exactly what young, primary-age children do on the iPad, but he did make it clear that teaching the children presentation skills at every level was a priority.  This is something I feel strongly about too, and his explanation was right on target.

When thinking about the office applications people use today, he and his staff look at word processing as something that is used solely for the purpose of printing on a piece off paper.  I don’t think this need will ever go away completely, but I do agree with him that it is becoming less necessary as our world becomes more and more digital.  I also agree when he states that learning today’s current word processing programs is not important.  Because twenty years from now when these kids are in the work force, who knows what kind of programs they will be using?

Speirs states,

“…we thought, well, in the end of the day, [word-processing is] a secretarial-level skill, whereas presentation, and persuasion, and communication is a CEO-level skill.”

This is the idea that captured me behind this interview.  I have been thinking a lot about the necessity of teaching our children entrepreneurial skills and other high level skills that they typically don’t learn in a traditional public school.  We shouldn’t be preparing them for the world as it is today – we have to prepare them for the world they are going to enter as young adults.

Speirs says,

“We spend a lot of time thinking about the future.You’ve got to realize how far ahead you have to think in education because quite often you end up, in education, where you’re sort of fighting the last battle, whereas you’ve got to be fighting a much longer game than that.”

I agree.  Right now, we have countless college graduates with higher degrees and school loans to pay off, but there are no jobs for them.  Some say this might be the next bubble to burst.  I don’t know exactly what the job market will look like when my boys graduate, but I know that letting them have some daily control over their education will go a long way in teaching them how to take charge of their lives as adults.

This is also what attracts me to project-based homeschooling, which I have written about before.  In project-based homeschooling, the child chooses what he or she wants to study, and they do their own research to complete the task.  Then they present their findings in a format of their choosing such as book, poster or other form. After listening to this podcast, I’m thinking in terms of what the Cedar School of Excellence might use – Keynote (PowerPoint) or mind-mapping (they use iThoughtsHD).  I could also throw in ideas such as photo slideshows or video.

As you can see, this interview with Fraser Speirs has got my wheels turning, and I’m thinking of different ways to incorporate technology in my son’s education.  At six years old, I can start by introducing him to different programs on our computer and showing them what they do.  My first endeavor to do this was to give him his own e-mail address.  We also gave him a point and shoot camera for his sixth birthday, and we’re using it as an educational tool too.  I’ll write about all of this and more in upcoming columns.

How do you use technology in your home education? What do you want to learn about technology so that you can pass this knowledge on to your kids?