Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Watching PBS’s “Wild Kratts” with the boys last night, an animal came on and hubby asked Bobo if he new what it was.

Bobo: That’s the wild American badger. It’s the cousin to the skunk.

Hubby: Good. Do you know what a skunk is?

Bobo: Yeah, it’s a . . . uh . . . uh . . . uh . . . Yeah, it’s the cousin to the wild American badger.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Leap of Reading

I was helping Bobo do his reading lessons earlier, and he matching words with the same beginning sounds using pictures.  We had finished about a page and a half, when we got to a picture of a can.  First I have him say all of the words in the list - you never know what kids think a picture of something is.  Then find the matches. He said the word can and, without missing a beat, spelled it. 

He’s never done that before. It’s a huge hurdle in the process of learning to read.  When a child goes from only being able to spell words he’s memorized to hearing an unknown word, breaking it down into the phonemes and then spelling it! Wow! It’s along the same lines as watching a baby stand for the first time. Just makes a mom all gushy.

Learning to read is such a mysterious thing. Ever wonder why there are so many different approaches to reading and reading programs out there? It’s partly because different children learn to read using different methods, but also because we still don’t know for certain how someone learns to read.

Think about it. These little squigglies we call letters have no relation to the sounds they represent. They don’t really “make” sounds, and they often represent multiple sounds. I’m often amazed that humans learn to read at all.  Reading is so cool!

Tidying up the Nursery: Why Does a Monkey Only Play in a Clean Room?

The boys have been driving me nuts for days!! Constantly fighting with each other. Constantly needing things that they are capable of getting themselves. Constantly asking ridiculous requests for things that they know they can’t do or have. Yelling at each other.

I can’t use tired as an excuse - at least not for them. They’ve been going to bed earlier than they have in months, and yet still waking up at their same time. So why? Why? Why? Why don’t they go and play with the bazillion toys they have?

I know I could handle all of this better if I could just get some sleep, but, despite their earlier sleep-time, neither Ebby nor Bobo sleep well even though they not being bitty babies. As a matter of fact, none of my kids slept well until they were about 6 or 7.  Bobo isn’t bad. Once or twice a week he wakes up from a bad dream and wants to crawl into our bed. But Ebby never sleeps well, and on the rare occasion that he does, it has to be in our bed with his feet in my face. My constant complaining of lack of sleep annoys even myself.

Yes, we’ve tried things to help. Herbal remedies. Nighttime routines. Being firm.  Food limitations. Yadda, yadda, yadda. But nothing works when a 4 year old starts screaming at 1 in the morning for any reason from his legs hurt to bad dreams to “I need a bit of a snuggle.”

The lack of sleep thing, I am not going to solve. With time, one hopes, all the monkeys will sleep the night through.

The not playing well during the day thing, I know what to do, but I just dread doing it.  I know that if I spend a good afternoon organizing their toys into orderly, themed containers, they will spend a good week playing well. I just don’t want to do it because I also know that at the end of the week the toys will be utter chaos and my two littlest monkeys will be at each other throats once again.

Why is it that there’s nothing like a clean and organized room that appeals to a child to spend hours or days messing it up?  Why can’t they look at a messy room and think what fun it would be to organize and sort the chaos?

Oh well. Enough time spent sitting on my bum drinking coffee. I need to go and enlist the boys into helping clean up the toys.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

How to Torture a Kid with Books

Looking through my bookcase trying to find Meme’s next reading assignment, I saw our Jane Austin books and was reminded of something that happened a couple of years ago.

When Jojo first started reading at 11 because of her dyslexia, I assigned her one to two books a week.  In either an article on why one should not delay reading or an advertisement for some reading program, the author made the point that if your child starts reading at 6 or 7, by the time he is 11 or 12 he will have read X number of pages in his life so far (X being a very large number). If you do not buy that reading program or start training him to read by age 5, the author continued, your child will be woefully behind and never catch up.

BS! I said. I agreed that quantity is as important as quality when it comes to reading. My favorite saying is that you only get better at doing something by doing it. That goes for reading as well. By age 11, Jojo had a good deal of lost time to make up for, so I just threw book after book at her, especially my favorite adventure novels.

She started complaining about the content. Too much action drama, she said in an attempt to sway me into letting her choose her own books. “My favorite characters are killed off in horrific ways.”  “I’m having bad dreams.”  She requested a book that was not in high adventure (to be honest we have had a pretty adventurous life). “And I don’t want people dying in it,” she finished.

Okay. So I thought about it and assigned her Jane Austin's Emma. Not high in adventure. No huge risk of death.

Her take on the novel: After 446 pages of people standing around talking and bitching about each other, maybe a little adventure in books isn't all bad. *evil grin*

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Once It Clicks

When feeling frustrated because my monkeys sometimes progress slowly, I remember what it was like a few years ago. We were in Massachusetts after Hurricane Katrina, and because of her dyslexia, Jojo at 10 could barely read 10 of the 50 most frequently written words. Even though we had tried 3 or 4 reading programs (I might go into that another day), she would forget what she learned within days or weeks of stopping. Meme at eight could not read at all -- not due to any problem with her, but because, between life's crises, I had been focusing all my efforts on Jojo.

It was difficult to admit that our life was not likely to settle down any time soon, and that moving all over, having babies, and two major hurricanes (we came back to Louisiana in time to get hit by Gustav) may be excuses other people will buy as to why we are woefully behind, but I needed to get over it and home-school despite what events were and are happening around us. I had to get determined that my child would read.

Once I figured out that the school system was not going to help (another long story), I researched the heck out of dyslexia. Then I spent 6 intensive months on Jojo's reading lessons – several exhausting hours every day. Then another 3 months of pushing her to read all of the time -- several books a week.  At first many of the books were below her age level for content, but she was starting to read at least.

Within a few months of turning 11, she was reading the fourth Harry Potter (after she read the first 3 in 3 weeks). I tested her reading level constantly, and within months of starting to read she was almost where she should be.  

In so many books about the act of learning to read, you see the same phrase over and over again. Suddenly something clicks, and the child will go from sounding out letters to reading in a short time. It’s almost like magic.  At some point I despaired that this magical event would ever occur for Jojo, but it had happened.

I'm still pushing her to read – 1 long or 2 short novels a week on top of the reading she does for pleasure. Her reading level is still being pushed to the limits.  Four years later, she can read anything. Her vocabulary has grown considerably. I now assign her books I read in college English classes, and she can not only read it but she understands the subtlety in it.

What I need to remember from that time period is that once she started reading, her schoolwork became easier for both of us. So much of our time was spent on learning to read and reading for her with the other subjects. Both for her and Meme, learning to read at that time was all consuming.

With the boys it will be the same thing. Once they break through that reading barrier, once that magical moment happens and it all clicks together, self-learning will become the norm. I will feel less horrible as a home-schooling mom and stop beating myself up over failures and delays, and go back to throwing book after book at them, just like I did with their sisters.  I look forward to those coming days with glee!

Why Home-School?

If you ask 100 home-school families why they do it, you are likely to get 100 different answers.

·         Quality of education
·         Religion
·         Closeness of having the children at home
·         Being influential in your child's life and education
·         Control (I’m hoping control over the education part and not “absolute control of my children,’ although sadly that happens too)
·         Your child is not doing well in the school setting
·         Bullies
·         Food Allergies
·         Etc., etc., etc.

Originally, I wanted to home-school because of socialization, which is ironically enough the aspect that drives many away from homeschooling. Instead of being afraid that my monkey would not have enough peer interaction, I was afraid that my monkey would get the wrong type of peer socialization. As an education major in college, I was disturbed by the peer interaction I saw. The big ones are obvious enough: the drug culture, risky sex, and exposure to things that I did not feel a child should be subjected. But the "smaller" aspects of socialization also bothered me, such as bullies (well, it hadn’t made headlines in 1998), teasing and extreme pressure to "fit in." These were the reasons that I knew my children would not go past the fourth grade in a school system.

But, when I finally pulled my oldest from school, I did so for a different reason. Algernon went to public school through the second grade. After that I realized that I had an absolute lack of control over her education once she was enrolled in school. My child was having problems with her teacher. Other than asking the principal to move her to another classroom (which we did and he refused), there was very little I could do.

Algernon was a precocious child from day one – stubborn as well.  At nine months, the child had a 3 word vocabulary: baby, ball and mama. If you took her outside at night, she would use all three words to argue with you that the moon was a ball. I never won that argument.

It was silly of me to think that she would be any less argumentative or stubborn with someone else trying to teach her, but she is very bright.

She learned to read using word cards in a method I can describe only as “whole words,” which is not anywhere near the same as what a pedagogue defines it as. At 6 she could read nearly anything on any level, but the child could not phonics her way out of a paper bag. She was horrid at it. Show her a 15 letter word, and she would say it, define it and use it in a sentence. Ask her what are all the sounds “ou” make, and she say’s “huh.” (No sweety, that’s not one of them.)

So there she was in second grade, by far the best reader in her class, reading at least one chapter book a week and failing, yes a big fat “F” failing, phonics.  We found ourselves sitting in a second grade classroom, in seats not meant to hold our bottoms, having the teacher conference with Mrs. H.

Mrs. H: Algernon needs to pass phonics. If she doesn’t pass phonics, she won’t pass the second grade.

Us: Uh, Mrs. H. what exactly is the point of learning phonics?

Mrs. H: So that the child can read.

Us: Well, she reads. She reads very well actually. Is there anyone in the class who reads better than she does?

Mrs. H: That’s not the point! She has to know phonics. I believe phonics is the very foundation for reading success.

Us: But, again, she already reads. (long uncomfortable silence) You believe? Does that mean that all second grade teachers use phonics?

Mrs. H: Well, no. But I believe it’s important. My class learns phonics.

Us: Look, we go over the phonics flash card with her for nearly 2 hours every night, and she still doesn’t get it. It didn’t take her that long to learn to read in the first place. She doesn’t use phonics to read. We don’t think she needs it.

Mrs. H: That isn’t really up to you, now is it?  As her teacher (isn’t that a phrase they all use to assert their authority over you?), I feel that it is important. Just keep drilling with the phonics cards, and she’ll eventually catch on.

We lost that battle too. She eventually caught on enough to pass, but she still doesn’t use phonics to sound out words. When she doesn’t know a word, she looks it up in the dictionary.  

When she started third grade, we were determined that her education wouldn’t be ruled by absurdities.  On her first day of third grade, I had a crash course on how to home-school thanks to an Avon customer who home-schooled her 4 children.  I pulled her out of school at the end of the day, and we’ve home-schooled her and all our other monkeys ever since.

Do I ever regret it? Of course. All of the time.  I’m always questioning what I do and how I do it. I’m still glad I chose it. Some days I despair that I’ve ruined my monkeys’ lives. Then we have a really productive day, or one my monkeys says something really profound that they discovered on their own, and I know that we would never have done those things if they had been in school.

Am I certain I made the correct decision? Never, but is anyone ever certain that they made the correct decision. I do what I think is best with the knowledge I have at the time I have to decide.  As parents, that’s just what we do.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Connections Academy vs K12: Virtual Charter Schools

How rude! I start a new blog on homeschooling, and the first real post I make is about an alternative to home-schooling: public virtual charter schools.

Well, it's a hot topic in our state right now, and many home-schooling families and families thinking about home-schooling are really confused. So, I thought I would give it a little review.

Louisiana is now offering an alternative to the normal brick and mortar public education on the form of virtual charter schools, and it’s giving parents a choice between 2 of them, both run by nation-wide companies. Louisiana Connections Academy is run by Connections Academy (www.connectionsacademy.com), and Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy is run by K12 (www.k12.com).

In practice this "too good to be true" answer to the school system is just that - many parents who pull their kids out of school thinking that they'll be doing "school on-line" are greatly disappointed.  In talking to the people at both K12 and CA, they aren't forthcoming with lots of specific answers, just reassurances - and reassurances make me nervous.
In my 14 years of home-schooling the 5 kids, we have tried the range of home-schooling methods, from the traditional all-in-one curricula to unschooling. We spent several years following Charlotte Mason’s ideas, and finally settled into the relaxed homeschooling we’ve been doing for a while.   

 I’ve been curious about the state sponsored charter schools since I’ve heard of them years ago, and I’m seriously considering doing one or both with the 3 kids I’m currently homeschooling.  I’m still not completely decided about what to do, but I wanted to be more informed nonetheless.

Part of what bothered me is that, although these two schools are often operating in the same states, on the surface they look the same. Next, I couldn’t find any true, semi-objective direct comparison of the two, despite that many people have used both. 

Both are free public schools. So yes, you are enrolling your child into the state provided education.
Both stick to the state required test schedules for L E AP, iLeap and G E E .

** side notes:
  • K12 is a much larger school. More people who've used it = more feedback to pull from.  I'm not slanted, but that's why I've written more on it.
  • Where did I find my info: I mainly looked for reviews written by families who actually used the schools (not just researched) and lots of personal blogs (gotta love these things!). I gave more credence to those who used it longer than a year and with multiple kids. I also called both schools several times each.
  • I do not vouch that this information is 100% correct. Each time I called the different schools, I often get a different answer. So if a point is really important to you, call, verify, get it in writing, etc.
  • If you have contradictory info, let me know and I'll check it out.

CA = Louisiana Connections Academy
K12 =  Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy


General Information            
  • Starts Aug 17
  • Couple weeks before school starts, teacher contact w/ dates & locations for tests
  • Scan-tron type assessment (on-line) at beginning of school year
    • Child can be promoted or retained based on scores – decision is up to teacher
    • K-8 students assigned 1 teacher: s/t ratio 30-40/1 – most curricula done at home w/ learning coach.

  • 3 levels in each
    • Beginner
    • Intermediate
    • Advanced
            Middle School           
            High school    
            Most curricula is K12 specific (i.e. not like Saxon Math)
            Foreign Language
                        Power Glide
                        Con: no teacher

  • Contact trough e-mail and an occasional face to face meeting.
    • Most communication is through learning coach, not student
  • High school, students assigned a teacher for each subject.
    • More virtual classroom stuff

  • log daily: 6 hours / day
  • flexible in hours you choose to school, but a minimum hours per, any day
  • must be met    
    • High school    
      • 1 live lecture per week per class (NOT recorded & viewed later)
        • Must attend the virtual classes
      • a 2nd optional lecture if extra help is needed
  • Computer Time          
    • 20% lower grades
    • 30-40% middle school
    • 60% high school

General comments from users (can be either a pro or con)                     
  • more advanced academics than CA  
  • fast paced       
  • need to be strong in basics to excel   
  • a-lot of subjects          
  • Not as much teacher interaction as CA         
  • Less use of technology than CA - more work w/ at home books, no skyping or dvd-like tutorials  
  • sequential       
  • all curricula & supplies shipped to you
  • daily agenda & prep list for teachers (but you don’t have access to this before school starts)
  • required “meetings” with teachers
  • Not much learning coach pre-time, but be prepared to spend a large portion of the day assisting
  • Appeals to the kinesthetic learner through the use of manipulatives and flash media.
  • Auditory learner through the use of reading room stories and CD's
  • Allows a steady pace for reluctant learner
  • Or skipping ahead for the motivated learner.
  • A-lot of activities per lesson, but once the student has mastered the object, he can move ahead without doing all activities.
  • As child gets used to it (may take a year or more), they become more independent

  • student can test out of lessons they know     
  • If finishes a year's course early, can start on next grade level's course - maybe nly for paid curricula, not free public schools
  • mastery based rather than letter based - 80% or higher on end of lesson eval to progress    
  • lessons can be accessed through any internet connection on any computer  
  • Optional activities for each lesson to help with mastery
  • Gets the child ready for college like classes w/o the classroom environment (something I lacked before) – tests, deadlines, expectations (part of life)
  • 8th grade and below, you have more control over meeting objectives. The teacher is there to help, not dictate.
  • Can view lesson plans a couple of weeks before school starts
  • Has a Study Island your child works on for a few minutes each day to help prepare for state tests, which I like better than teaching everything for the test
  • Found more positive on K12 than CA, but I think K12 is a bigger program (more people = more feedback)
  • High School   
    • schedule a little more rigid
    • less flexibility
    • Virtual classes have to be participated in at the time scheduled
  • a bit difficult for students who are behind    
  • may take longer than 6 hours a day for kids who are behind
  • Would be very hard for a family who had no structure to their day
  • Will need a computer for each child, even if the child is not on it all day. Otherwise multiple children have difficulty “scheduling” their school work
  • Impossible for a single or working parent.

General thoughts                  
  • Will be time consuming, rigorous and at time hard, but it will bring children up to speed for their age
  • Better education
  • If you starting out w/ a young child or pulling a child from school, K12 would work well and serve you better in the end than CA
  • If your child is very self-motivated and works at an accelerated pace, K12 is better
  • Very systematic in its approach. If you did well in regular school and think your child would do well in regular school, it’s not bad especially if you start them in K12 young
  • You’ll be overwhelmed the first month. If you can stick it out, it’ll get better.
  • Mixed reviews, either loved or hated, but I see a common thread.
    • Those who love it
      • Have self-motivated learners
      • Learners that catch on fast and work at a fast pace
      • Start out in K-3rd grade or
      • Pull their kids from school or have always used a traditional curricula for their kids (Classical hs’ing or prepackaged curricula)
    • Those who hate it
      • Have children “behind” for their age/grade level
      • Children who have to be cajoled into schoolwork regardless of the source
      • Children who have been homeschooled for several years with little or no traditional structure (un-schooling, relaxed home-schooling, Charlotte Mason approach or even unit-studies)

Connections Academy

General Info:
  • School starts Aug 15
  • Online placement tests for middle & high school kids to place them – about 30 min tests for each math & language arts
  • Teacher will contact to figure out where the child should be placed and can have child work above or below grade level
  • Student/teacher ratio under 30 to 1
  • K-5 has one teacher
  • Above 5th one teacher for each subject
  • To progress to the next lesson, they have to be passing 67% or higher (not mastery)

  • doesn't look like it has extra curricular classes, but if doing well in core, after 30 days can enroll in extra curricular. Therefore it focuses first on the core subject.
  • if finish one grade's curriculum, can move ahead into the next grade's
  • Subjects
·         Math
o       Scott Foresman enVisionMATH to 5th grade
o       Prentice Hall Math 6th grade
·         Language Arts
o       Scott Foresman Reading to 5th grade
o       Glencoe Literature 6th
·         Social Studies
o       Scott Foresman Social Studies to 5th
o       Glencoe History 6th , 8th
o       Online 7th
·         Science
o       McGraw Hill Science to 5th
o       Glencoe Science 6th
·         Gifted classes 3-8 in LA, Math & Science
·         High school: basic, standard, honors & AP

  • homeroom teacher weekly talks and updates
  • Contact by phone w/ students 1/week
  • live classes - weekly (all ages, more often for high school kids)                   
  • can have one-on-one live lessons if need extra help  

  • log daily: 5.9 hours /day
    • Any time, any day of the week                     
  • certain lectures that must be watched by the high schoolers; if they are unable to be logged in at the time of the lecture      
  • Minimum time for each class but it is by the week and can be done at any time, even on week-ends
  • Live lessons mandatory:
    • 1 per week per subject – all depends on specific teacher
    • Recorded, but want students to participate as much as possible (again depends on teacher you get)

  • Provides 1 computer / family
  • more interaction w/ teachers & other students          
  • teacher actually determines at what pace the student learns
    • ability to work ahead, a 3rd grader doing higher math
    • if behind, can be at a lower in a course
  • Virtual classes are recorded, and though encouraged to attend all, can be watched later

  • grade based rather than mastery based. Need a 67% to pass.           
  • High School   
    • schedule a little more rigid
  • Sounds more like “school at home” than K12 w/ the on-line classrooms & required attendance
  • Less flexible about days/times
  • Assignments determined by individual teachers. So like with public school if you get a good, organized teacher, then YEAH. Otherwise, frustration.

General Thoughts:
  • Easier than K12 for the child, but doesn’t teach as much
  • If your child is behind for his/her age, is not used to a structured school day or is an older student, starting w/ CA wouldn’t be bad. You can always switch to K12 the next year
  • Probably more like regular school at home.
  • Several complaints that you can not move ahead grade levels in subjects or even work too much ahead of the rest of your cyber class. When I ask the help people, they say that you can, but it’s at the teacher’s discretion. That also may be different state by state.

If I had to sum up the differences, in a few short statements (and again, this is from no actual experience):

Lower Grades & Middle School
CA is more of an actual virtual school where the student interacts with a teacher on-line, and that teacher, like a public school teacher, has a great deal of decision power on how the student’s education goes. It’s a grade based system, just like a normal school. The student has the lesson which is mixed between parent taught, skype-like lectures and on-line activities, and then he takes a test. Pass or fail, he moves on (at least that’s my understanding).

Most complaints on CA seem to be because the teacher, who has a great deal of control, doesn’t do what the parent wants (move a child ahead, hold a child behind, isn’t terribly professional, waits until the last minute to give assignments, etc).  Some of these complaints are valid. The teachers are human and may be very competent and helpful or not.

K12 is more like the traditional all-in-one curricula where the parent is responsible for 90% of the education but reports back to an outside arbitrator.  The parent teaches the lessons either how it’s presented in the material or however else they see fit (and yes that is encouraged). All the arbitrator (aka teacher) needs is to know that you are covering the material adequately. They even tell you that the “hours you log” are subjective. As long as you claim to have worked 6 hours a day, they’re happy b/c the state is happy.  The student has some supplemental stuff on-line and tests. It’s a mastery system, so the student has to know 80% of the information before he can move on.

Most complaints on K12 have to do with the amount of the work presented. Parents are nearly always overwhelmed at first, and they do expect that. Because it’s a mastery system, the parent eventually figures out that the students don’t have to do all the work – just until they master it. Every student needs a different amount of practice & review, so they present the max they think you’ll need.

Despite that K12 isn't technically home-schooling, on a day to day basis it looks identical - at least 8th grade and below. The parent spends a great deal of time teaching, reviewing and testing.  You do get support though that an otherwise home-school family wouldn't get. In exchange for the support though you are held accountable for how much your children learn.  I found this interesting

High school:
Both schools are very similar once the kids reach 9th grade. More and more classes are on-line. The teachers are more involved with the students on a day to day basis. The main difference at this level seems to boil down to the assessment system. CA is still a graded system. After a lesson, you take the test and get a grade. K12 is still a mastery system – you don’t advance until you know 80% of the material.

Home-Schooling 5 Monkeys

I’m looking over my old text documents of things I’ve written over the year, and I have files that I’ve saved from 1990, but there’s very few mental meanderings about our home-schooling adventure. I’ve been home-schooling since 1998, so I guess that makes me a dinosaur. We have done some pretty weird things in the name of education, and I wished I had written it down.

Now before all 5 of our monkeys are grown and finished with this chapter in their education, I want to at least document some of what we do.  In years to come our activities may be so foreign to the current paradigm or it may be the norm, but unless I jot some of it down, I won't remember a thing.