Monday, June 30, 2008

Byzantine Rulers - Free Lectures!

My nephew and niece are up today and that means much loneliness for me. Occasionally I have to step in and say stuff like, "Okay guys, time to clean that up," or, "I think you guys should eat now," or, "Do I have to tie you guys up to the flagpole, pull you up to the top and let you flap in the breeze for the rest up the day?" But really I'm mostly left by myself as the kids drag out board games, barbies or craft supplies. Catherine even manages to mediate most of the tiffs and hurt feelings ("I'll deal with it Mom"). Talk about feeling left out.

Never fear though. there's always the Internet and a Google search for history lectures can turn up some marvelous finds to occupy a bored mom (Don't say that. Of course I know there's always cleaning but I don't want to go there, thank you very much).

12 Byzantine Rulers is a fantastic series of lectures by Lars Brownworth. Ever thought all the fun died when Christianity came into the picture? Not so! the Byzantine rulers could be every bit as fantastic or depraved as any of the emperors before Constantine. The politics, people, wars were as interesting...And Mr. Brownworth does a wonderful job with an even and engaged delivery.

Next time the kids don't need you or you've managed to lock them in a closet for a bit, have a listen.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Museum Trips

I've been up at my mom's the last couple of days. It was just a quick trip but we managed to squeeze quite a bit into it.

Yesterday we went to the Fundy Geological Museum where I was surprised to discover that the rock and mineral samples, particularly amethyst, held as much wonder for Catherine as any of the fossils and casts of dinosaur bones. Harry was the one that run around the dinosaur exhibits while Catherine stood glued to the mineral exhibit trying to work out how to pronounce the names.

The trip to the gift store was interesting. Catherine piled up on all kinds of sciency goodies: Geodes, polished rocks, a rock that grows crystals after a week in vinegar, little plastic tubes that you compress and then release to shoot across a room and an old fashioned toy that I can't describe and will have to post a video of later.

Harry choose a plastic magic wand that made a whooshing sound and had a blinking LED light.

I tried to steer him away from the wand to something I considered more appropriately reflective of a museum gift shop but he was not persuaded and in the end, it was all he wanted. And he knew what he was doing of course. That wand hasn't gotten a rest since and has sparked some wonderful imaginative play.

We bundled up our loot and headed for the Age of Sail Heritage Museum which is only 5 minutes from my parent's house. It's a small community museum with exhibits that mostly come from the basements and attics of the local people. And it has everything. There was a dinghy, model ships, an old turn-of-the-century kitchen, models of the local wharf when it was a ship building center, documents, household goods, woodworking tools, a snowshoe for logging horses (!)...Catherine was most impressed with a blacksmithing forge and anvil on display. When I told her of another attraction a couple of hours away from our home that had a working blacksmith shop she got excited and decided that HAD to be our next trip. I think the blacksmith shop was something she was familiar with from fantasy books and that's why it was such a draw for her.

The only downside was that though the young guide at the museum was very polite, she wasn't all that knowledgeable. When Harry piped up with, "Excuse me but where did this boat come from?" (in reference to a wooden dinghy) all she could say was, "Um. Off a bigger boat." No matter, we had a good time there.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Spore. It's Almost Here.

If you're a true geek then you''ve been waiting years for the release of a game called Spore from the gaming god, Will Wright (of Sim City and The Sims fame). Spore is a life sim that should take the player from a one-celled organism through to getting a civilization into space.

And it's coming in September. That sound? That's the squealing of millions of joyful gamers all around the world.

Today I downloaded the demo version of the Spore Creature Creator and since then, the kids and I have created dozens of creatures. It's a blast to do and the possibilities, even with the fairly limited choices in the demo version, are almost endless. Needless to say, tommorrow there will be a purchase of the ten dollar full version of the creature creator.

One neat feature of the creator is that when you're finished you can make a video of your creature and upload it to YouTube (someone in marketing needs a whopping promotion). The creativity on display on YouTube is wonderful. People are using it to create beautiful little creatures:

Weird and wonderful beasts:

Human beings:

And even dirty words and sexual acts (Just search for "spore mating" on YouTube)

Crazy. But I think this is just a hint at what Spore will do. It's not meant to be consumed by the end user, it's meant to be controlled by the end user. And it's a pile of fun.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

All of a Sudden...

Everything's possible.

Shannon got the position in the nearby town we were hoping for.

Now we've got a foundation under us. Now we can sit down and talk about what the future is going to hold. Most of the discussion will be about real estate. I'll be gunning hard for a duplex in the nearby town that's cheap enough that we can still hold on to our current house. He'll be wanting to stay here for a little while in case he wants to bid on a job that may be opening up out this way. Either way, it's freedom. It's the freedom to discuss and debate and choose between real choices and the freedom to act on those choices.

How weird.

Excuse me, I have to go scream now.

UPDATE: Now I have to sit and sigh, big time. As it turns out, something went a little funny in the bid process and now my dear husband IS going to the town that's 7 hours away. No new house yet. Hopefully, he'll only be there for a few months.

Darn it.

Strangely though, I'm not that disapointed. Knowing where he's going is better then the uncertainty we had before.

But still...Darn it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Girls and Horses

Catherine is at a Guides campout tonight and tomorrow. It's happening at a horse farm where the 18 or so pre-adolescent girls will all get riding lessons for a day.

I don't envy the Guide leaders.

Campout. Horses. Girls.

I think I'd rather walk over slippery river rocks with vials of nitroglycerin strapped to my chest. Much less explosive.

Birthday Party Planning for Catherine

I did it. For the first time ever I have the party of one of my children planned at least two weeks in advance with invitations ready to go. Usually parties are a much more last minute affair and end up with us either paying for some package, like a movie theatre party or just inviting people over with no real plan while the kids go wild. Not this time.

Kids will arrive at a local wildlife park after lunch where our first activity will involve spliting them into groups headed by an adult with a digital camera. Each team will get a list of clues. They'll have to figure out what animal the clue refers to and then head to the enclosement where they'll have to get a picture of the animal (or the info sign) and a picture of them acting like the animal. I'm not sure if I'll bring the laptop so we can giggle at the pictures or send them cds after the fact. Once that's over with we'll head to the nearby picnic park.

At the picnic park we'll do an animal craft. After the craft we'll eat cupcakes and open presents. If there's time to kill after that we can play animal charades.

The only hitch would be rain but if it does rain, we'll simply be brave and get wet. That's why I'm opting for cupcakes rather then a cake, easier to distribute in case of dramatic downpour.

So that's it. It's planned. Invitations go out today. Two weeks before the party. I astonish myself sometimes.

You Atheists Annoy Me

Well, you don't all annoy me (but the generality makes for a punchier title, eh?). Just those of you on atheist message boards who are all reasonable and clear thinking when it comes to religion or politics but become irrational weenies who resort to anecdotes and unsupported claims when the subject of homeschooling comes up. It's the willing devolution into Lessenberrys that gets me.

This is especially bad when the whole reason I go to atheist message boards is for the clear-thinking, rational discussions. Yes, I like the snark and cursing too but it's mostly the other stuff. What frigging right do those posters have to dash my expectations of them? What right do they have to get so messy, emotional and...human?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Questions About Homeschooling

Over at Mommage there's a post that brings up a lot of the usual questions about homeschooling. Venice mentions that she came close to homeschooling several times, never taking the plunge because things would improve at school. She was also bothered by two things:

One was the lack of social interaction, and the other was the fact that I am not a teacher and am not qualified to teach.

I have to think Venice can't actually have come too close to homeschooling because those two questions are fairly basic and a little research would have dealt with them quickly.

The first one is an easy one.

I'm quite sure that if most parents with the socialization concern gave a few moments thought to all the socializing their children do outside of school they'd see why homeschoolers look puzzled when the matter is brought up. In the last week my daughter has gone to soccer practice and a game, a school dance with her cousin, performed in a concert, and has had neighbourhood kids knocking on the door nonstop. Tommorrow night she heads out for a Girl Guides camping trip to a horse farm (Yes, I know you all just winced at the thought of me dealing with a 9 year old girl who's been bouncing off the walls with excitement for the past couple of weeks. Yes, I know I have your sympathy).

School is simply one place where socialization happens. When a kid doesn't go to school, other oppotunities for socialization present themselves. Very often they're opportunities schooled kids might not have any chance to experience, like my daughter's work as a helper at a preschool where she mixes with younger children and adult teachers. I can't make the case my kids will get the same socialization as schooled kids but that's not something I'm interested in anyhow. It will be different but different is not a bad thing.

The teacher thing seems trickier on the surface but really isn't. In the past I've given my reasons for not worrying about my lack of qualifications but another thought often reassures me. I haven't yet met a teacher-turned-homeschooler who's claimed her training was indispensible or even of any great use when it came to homeschooling. I've even known a few who claimed it was worse than useless and even got in the way. The simple fact is that homeschooling is to teaching what carpentry is to working in a furniture factory. Yes, the carpenter and the worker both produce furniture but the environment, the skills and even the basic tools used in each situation may be dramatically different. The training one requires may hamper the other.

The skills that have been useful to me in homeschooling are the ones I developed as a parent, the ones most parents use when teaching a child to ride a bike, fish or when tutoring them in algebra or history so when Venice asks later:

Should parents be required to take courses certifying them to teach, or should they be taken at their word that they are qualified?

...My answer would be that they should be taken at their word. If the state assumes I have the skills to parent then they should assume I've got what I need to homeschool. I think this would be more obvious if those calling for certification actually took a look at how homeschooling often works rather then comparing apples and oranges.

Head over to Mommage if you've got anything to share with Venice. Her post is a polite call for opinions.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I'm Nervous

Come Wednesday there will be a bid process that will determine where my husband will have his first real position. The two possibilities are a town that's a good 7 hour drive away in another province or a town 30 minutes away that's actually where we would want to build in a few years.

If he gets the neaby town we've decided we'll look at buying a duplex there. Prices are low and we could buy one, live in it, rent the apartment and possibly hold on to our current property and rent it as well. We'd still be building off grid in a few years, we just wouldn't have to try to make our tiny house work for us in the meantime.

So if my posts are short, dull and uninspiring for the next few days, it's because I'm preoccupied. I'm imagining a bigger house by fall, looking at all the real estate websites and hoping, hoping, hoping.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Home Movies. Yes, You Do Have to Watch Them.

Today was Harry's preschool graduation. Despite the fact that he enjoys preschool when he's there, getting ready to go isn't something he always enjoys and when he realized there was no more preschool after today, his reaction was along the lines of, "Thank the Lord!"

A picture of how cute they looked before the concert.

Since this is my blog I have every right to torture you with movies of the concert. But, since I am a kind and caring blogger I will only subject you to two.

The first movie was a dance. A group of kids, Harry included, decided they wanted to dance on stage to I Want to Move it. The boys gave the stage a good butt-polish (Harry is the tall one in the white shirt and red vest). Note the girl that doesn't move. She is not afraid. She was giving the audience a death stare because we dared laugh. My husband cut off the video too soon and missed the part where all the kids exited the stage but her. She stood there, staring daggers at all the parents, until my sister managed to talk her down. This worries me. She's obviously destined for a life of world domination and unfortunately, marked Harry as her betrothed several weeks ago. Poor lad.

The next video is of Catherine. She was the Special Helper at the preschool this year and while the other kids got their certificates the teachers surprised Catherine with a bouquet of flowers. What's in the video though is her reading her favourite poem, Let No One Suppose, by James Reeves. She was confident, clear and even added some nice emphasis in parts. I was wearing a huge, goofy grin through her whole reading.

Just a note: My husband did the video. If it had been me the lighting would have been better and I would have zoomed in. As it is I'm going to have to have Catherine into the studio for looping. *sigh* Amateurs.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Day Off From Being a Good Mom

I'm still sick but I just got up an hour ago so while I have a clear and rested brain I'm going to post something.

For the first time since we cut off the cable TV I've been missing it. Reading requires to much focus, as does web surfing, as do puzzle books. Vegging in front of a The People's Court (yes, I secretly love that show. No time for Judge Judy or Judge Joe Brown but Judge Milian rocks) with a bowl of throat-soothing ice cream is about all I'm good for and the one thing I now can't do.

Okay, not really. Trust that I will always find a way to veg in front of a TV when given a good excuse. We happen to have the first season of Stargate SG-1 and the entire run of Firefly on DVD. The husband and I consider them educational investments, key to raising good geeks. So Monday and Tuesday were passed with the kids and I watching Stargate.

We found out something interesting. The first episode of Stargate contains nudity. Not a little bit either but an extended scene of full frontal female nudity and much breastiness (my spellcheck doesn't like that word but I think it sounds fantastic). The kids giggled a bit. They've seen nudity in movies before so it wasn't a big deal for them. Just a bit of a shock for the recovering prude of a mom. Fortunately I remembered that I am now a hip and progressive mom and that meant nudity was fine and I relaxed and simply watched the scene with the kids.

While the nudity went by with nothing more then the giggles a bit of gruesomeness that followed got me a sharp look from Catherine. A parasitic creature emerged from a woman's belly in search of a new host. Sort of Alien like but more schlocky, this being TV and all.



"Harry might be scared. Should he be watching this?"

Catherine loves a good orc decapitation as much as I do but Harry is a bit of a more sensitive soul. He just can't handle the gross stuff like the women folk. But with this he seemed fine. I think it makes a difference when you're watching something in daylight with your family on a somewhat crappy TV. I reassured Catherine and we went on to spend a total of four hours in front of the TV.

Nakedness, parasitic creatures and hours of TV slavery. Made for a fun day with the kids.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I'll Be Back

Apologies for the break in blogging. I've got a head cold (the second in a month) and am sort of useless with anything that requires prolonged thought and attention. Be back when it's better.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Yard Sailing for Homeschool Supplies

A local church holds a big yard sale once a year and yoday was the day so Catherine and I got up early and arrived at the church just in time for the opening of the doors. We got tons of neat stuff. Tons.

The biggest hit? Okay, aside from the soft stuffed Thomas the Tank Engine that Harry is currently snuggling with.

Why something I picked up just because it was 25 cents and not because I had any real expectations of it:

It's a kit with cards that have words and corresponding pictures on them. The words are actually punched out so that the foam letters that come with the kit can be placed in the holes in order. I thought it was gimmicky when I saw it but when Harry saw it? He loved it.

He's been playing with it, off and on, since I brought it home. Again, having something to hold in his hands (like the Math-U-See blocks) and manipulate seems to make all the difference for him. He's sorting the letters, fitting them in, telling me their sounds and then spelling the word.

Hands on. That's the key with him. At some point I'll remember that for good.

BTW - the only information I could find on the books was here, at the website of a company that sells books through people's place of work. A weird setup but apparently the only place the book is sold.

Free Science Lectures for Kids - By Richard Dawkins!

This is as good as it gets - five hours of science lectures by the Dawkins Himself! You can buy the DVDs or simply watch the lectures, Growing Up in the Universe, for free here. You can also download them if you choose.

Yes, yes. I know you love me.

Friday, June 13, 2008

How I Know We're Doing Okay with Math

Catherine likes to stump my husband and I with math questions. A couple of weeks ago it was, "Mom - x times x plus x times purple equals twelve."

She thought it was tough.

My husband and I talked about it, Catherine and I discussed it and over the course of a day and separate conversations this is what we came up with:

First, we limited the variables to positive whole integers.

Second, x times x could instead be x squared and x times purple could instead be expressed as xp.

Third, x squared has to be a square number smaller then 12.

After that it was easy and we came up with two solutions.

What really told me Catherine was doing okay though wasn't her original question. It was that whole, positive, integer, squared and condensing x times purple to xp were all things she understood. Not to mention notation, order of operation and the whole idea of variables. I looked back on it after and realized in that one question of hers and the subsequent conversations she'd demonstrated quite a bit of knowledge and more then that, could put it all to some use.

Most of the time it feels like we're stumbling through this homeschooling thing blind but every once in awhile I look up and see just how much territory we've put behind us and I'm amazed.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I Saw my Dreamhouse Today

I met a friend while the kids were in preschool (Harry attends, Catherine works) and she took me to the house of a friend of hers. She had mentioned something about solar power and I had an idea that maybe she meant solar panels so I was interested. And then we pulled up to house.

It was my dream house. It was bermed with earth on two sides. It had windows along it's South-east side and a HUGE wall of windows that went to the roof line facing south. By solar she had meant the whole house was heated by passive solar power which was pumped through the house via duct work. It also had a wall of cinder block in the central living room where a wood stove would be for cold, cloudy days. The water would be partially heated by solar panels. The bedrooms were compact and cozy (there's some imagination involved there as the inside walls were framed but not drywalled) and the main living space open and bright. It was big, 1900 sq. feet, but not a monster house.

I have the name of her designer and builder, Don Roscoe, tucked away now. The man doesn't know it but he and his solar house have just stepped into my daydreams.


I was shopping this week. Tuesday was a trip to the local thrift store where I found that the hundreds of books they once had were almost all gone. Apparently they felt they just had to much (which they did) and so invited some used book buyer down to clear out most of what they had. All that was left was a half dozen shelves and they're apparently going to keep it that way.

At first I was disappointed. Now there was very little stock to peruse. Then I realized, hey. there's very little stock to peruse! What used to take me an hour and cause a bit of anxiety because I knew there was a treasure at the bottom of that pile in the corner that I couldn't get to now takes 10 minutes and I can see every single book they have. I spent more there Tuesday then I ever had before and got some great stuff.

The best buys?

The Young Engineers Book of Supertrains.

This is a fantastic book filled with great text and colorful illustrations. It has everything from cutaway views to information on different types of trains to experiments you can try with your young train nut to strange and record-breaking trains. The only problem? Try to find it. True to form I found a wonderful book that seems to be out of print and not widely available. Google turned up some places like EBay where it could be found but you may have your work cut out for you.

The Nature of Florida's Waterways/The Nature of Florida's Neighborhoods:

I think these must have been bought by a Snowbird, a Canadian retiree who winters in Florida but I'm not sure. The books are filled with pen and ink illustrations of Florida wildlife and interesting text that describes a bit about them. Catherine has been keeping them by her bed. First to look at the pictures and then to hunt down little people the author/illustrator has inserted into many of her drawings:

I think she plans to read them next. I'm really glad I got these, plan to get more of the series and really wish there was something similar for local wildlife. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Bridge of Faults Across the Divide

Being a homeschool mom often means people make certain assumptions about you. Some are negative but many are positive but the funny thing is that the positive assumptions can be just as damaging as the negative ones.

Why? Because the assumptions create a void where understanding and commonalities get swallowed up. If the school mom assumes that you, the homeschool mom are a crack organizer or a whiz with home cooked meals then she may not make any effort to relate to you, may cast you as an "other". After all, she can't discuss the stress of juggling soccer, dance and homework or the many ways to make a ten minutes meal out of hot dogs and canned soup with you, can she?

The assumptions also hurt those of us in the homeschooling world. I don't have my act together and often suck at being a parent but I just know all the other moms have their act together, right? I read blog and forum post full of effective cleaning schedules, kid brags and homeschool success. Must be just me that can't get my act together...Maybe I'm not cut out for this after all.

Of course, it's all bullocks. I realized that today while reading the blog of Doc, who after four kids and ages as a homeschooling mom is having doubts and regrets. We just simply don't take the brave step Doc did and let other people see where we doubt, fall down and even fail.

Here's the immense value of what Doc did: School moms may read that and realize we aren't super moms free from doubt and homeschool moms may realize that even the old hands at homeschooling can still feel the fears the newbies do. This kind of confessing and sharing may help cross the divide that Dana addresses in a most excellent post. Letting people know our faults can accomplish more in crossing divides then kid brags or lists of famous dead homeschoolers ever will.

In that spirit I have two confessions, one big and one somewhat less big.

The first should be apparent to anyone who's read my blog for any length of time. I am horribly inconsistent. I jump from gimmick to gimmick, curriculum to curriculum and even hop across styles in order to keep myself continually interested in homeschooling. I am someone who tires of interests fairly quickly and so, to fend that off I'm often switching out old approaches for new ones. Our on-the-go unit studies? Don't do them anymore. Catherine's daily work blog? I abandoned that months ago. For the sake of my dignity I should probably keep a little more quite about every Next Big Idea but I'm resolved to throwing the ideas out there knowing they're likely doomed to failure with me but may be just the thing someone else needs.

My less big confession is this:

That was supper last night. It's Hamburger Helper but not even the good stuff, just the store's cheap brand. We had frozen pizza Sunday night too.

I meal plan sometimes but the plans often fall apart. Quite often we eat food that provides over half an adult's daily sodium needs in one meal portion. I do make home cooked meals from scratch quite often but I am quite willing to cheat by grabbing a box of instant meal, heating something frozen or piling the kids in the car for deep-fried fish and chips. If I ever get on my high horse about nutrition please knock me off because I rarely buy organic anymore and consider bologna a staple.

I'm going to work on posting more about how I fail and about the negatives I recognize in my homeschooling and mothering. Not to beat myself up but if I'm going to keep blogging and presenting a certain image of myself I might as well try to make it a bit more accurate. I never know who's reading and it just might help someone reach out across the divide.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Origin of Grading Children

This is an absolute must read. Over at Beyond School, CBurell has a fantastic post that details the history of large classes and the grading of children. Here's a snippet of what he had to say (in a quote from a comment he made on another blog):

Large class sizes plus the GPA game transforms students into grade-junkies, and teachers into mere graders. My evidence: I’ve had about 50 students ask to meet to discuss their grade this year, and how they can raise it. I’ve had three ask to meet to discuss how to write better, read poetry better, or otherwise “learn from teacher.” My take-away: they see me as a grade-giver, and school as an instrument for getting them into college, not a place to learn.

But you've got to go read the whole thing. There are extensive quotes from Thom Hartmann (who will be familiar to ADD folks) on the chap, William Farish, who came up with the system of larger classes and grading children that is so embedded in our culture today most people can't even begin to imagine education without it. There are informative links galore, especially in the comments and I guarantee you, it'll be one of those reads that just solidifies those Jello-y thoughts that previously sloshed around in your head.

If you ever have a hard day and traditional schooling is singing a siren's song in your head, go back to that post. It will rescue you.

I Now Love Facebook

I've been a little complacent about Facebook. I signed on, added friends, liked connecting with people...Well, I was on today and a family member I hadn't spoke to for ages chatted with me.

It was fantastic. It happened to be a family member that's been in the back of my mind for awhile. This woman is brave and independent and someone who, even if we weren't related and I'd just met her, I'd want to know. The only problem is that she's on the opposite side of the country. A relative I'd love to have over for supper, see tickle the kids, drink a few beers with and she lives an eight hour flight away. Sheesh.

So I love Facebook now. It's the neatest thing. And if you do visit my blog Cousin, I forgot to say it in our conversation but I love you too!

Faery's Tale Deluxe

Catherine and I started reading Faery's Tale Deluxe today. This is going to be part of our summer fun and will include my nephew who will be coming over once school ends in two weeks, so we're getting familiar with it now.

The first thing I read was part one of a story that runs through the book. It's sort of an introduction to the world of the game and gives the kids a flavour of how the game will run. We then went on to read the summaries of the the characters the kids can choose to be: pixies, brownies, sprites and pookas. Sprites don't have magic but they are warriors and form close bonds with animals friends so, of course, that's what Catherine wants to be.

Catherine was already drawing as I read, designing her character and thinking about what other classes of faeries we could design and bring into the game. I'm optimistic that storytelling will follow, maybe written stories.

I'm also wondering about how this might benefit the kids beyond writing and drawing. Faery's Tale deals with the world in miniature. All of the characters that the children can choose to be are no more than a few inches tall. If they're out playing in the yard or going for a walk will they start looking at the details of plants, at the tiny animals, at the pebbles and twigs to try and understand the scale of the world their alter egos live in? Heck, could we collect some of the things they find and construct figurines their characters? The houses they might live in?

It'll be interesting to look back on this in the fall and see where it's taken the kids and I.

Monday Only - Free Library Organization Software

Giveaway of the Day is giving away All My Books, a piece of software that might be of use to many of us who own piles and piles of books. Here's a description:

Group and browse your collection of books by title, author or publisher, or run a quick search by any field. You can even define your own fields to label the books, such as comments or memos, and search them later.

What use would be an electronic book organizer if you had to spend hours to catalogue your entire collection?
All My Books does not ask you about every little detail about the book. Instead, it implements a revolutionary way to create and organize your collection. Just enter the book’s title or ISBN number from the back of the book, and All My Books will retrieve the rest of the data automatically from the Internet.

The only hitch is they are only giving the software away today AND you have to download register and install it today. If you download it but don't install it today, you won't be able to in the future. Just thought I'd let people know because this certainly seems like software a lot of us an use.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Creative Writing With Role Playing Games

I was talking about role playing games a few posts ago and mentioned that, "And now I have to go look around the interweb because I am SURE I saw a whole creative writing program based on an RPG."

I found it. It's called Legends of Druidawn and there's not only an ebook available for download but a whole 'nother site, The World of Druidawn, where it looks like students can talk and submit stories and art. Very neat and for $39.95 it may be a good deal for some.

Me? I think I'll stick with the The Faery's Tale (which I have purchased but haven't read yet). From what I remember simply playing a good rpg without any extra creative writing program was enough to get me scribbling down stories and characters ideas.

One note on looking for rpgs though, if you're new to them you might want to make sure to look for a D6 system. That simply means it uses the plain old six-sided di that all of us have in drawers or old Monopoly games. Some systems use some more exotic dice that you'll only find in a gaming store.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

I Missed the Spong!

I learned today that the ever-so-famous, retired Episcopal BishopJohn Spong was speaking in town. That would have been tonight, only $20 and I could have had a ride in.


But I was already committed to going to my in-laws for a birthday B-B-Q for my Mother-in-Law.

The truth is that I'm not really torn up about this. I have the most fantastic in-laws and had a great time today. I just wish Mr. Spong could have been a little more considerate of my family commitments and held his talk tomorrow. Then I could have had a blast with my family and graced Mr. Spong's lecture with my presence.


Friday, June 6, 2008

I Kill Plants...

And I have the pictures to prove it.

This was a beautiful tropical plant my husband brought my on my birthday last fall. Where there's green, there's hope I suppose. If I ever remember to give it water.

A Venus fly trap and some anonymous thing my daughter gave me for Mother's Day. Not even my love for my daughter and my appreciation for her gifts can save the little anonymous thing. Same problem here, no water.

The Cacti. I am even causing some of the cacti to keel over with thirst.

This is the Aloe Vera plant which I actually did quite well with. I even re potted it. However, I suspect one of the kids thought it needed watering because the poor thing is is rotting.

My one success. These are baby Oaks that we grew from acorns. But I always do well with them when they're that young. It's right about now that I start to abandon them.

I am very good with outdoor plants though. I suspect this is the case because even though I'm as negligent with them, at least they have they rain.

Poor baby oaks. I'll have to get them into the ground soon or it's the reaper for them.

Math-U-See Mazes

The Math-U-See blocks are a hit. They've been played with every day since they arrived. Sometimes it's mathy play with me but more often Harry is building tunnels and ships (they're more popular than Lego right now). Today he was using the Hundred block as a base and on top, building mazes with the other pieces.

I think I'd recommend those blocks over the cuisenaire rods any day.

Role Playing Games for the Kids

School ends in just a little while so that means instead of four of us here most weekdays (me, my kids and my niece) there will be five as my 8 year old nephew joins us. That means I need something to occupy us all on occasion and something that will help me in my sinister plan to plant deep geek seeds in my sister-in-law's children. Not to mentions RPGs are fantastic for math, storytelling, critical thinking and a whole slew of other skills.

First stop - two very simple and quick to learn rpgs, one for a walk outside and one for the table.

The Nighttime Animals Save the World! All you need to play this game is a pocket full of coins. Everyone picks an animal and imagine that the animal is traveling with them as they walk. From the environment, the game master picks obstacles and challenges, the kids come up with solutions and the coins are used to resolve success or failure. I can't wait to try this one

The Adventures of the Good Knights and Other Stories Looks simple (is a little vague actually) and has a fantasy theme. This, like the last one, puts a lot of emphasis on the GM's story telling skills.

Examples of play for both of these games can be found at Roleplaying Games for Kids.

A site that helped a lot when I was looking for RPGs was RPGS for Kids. It's a well thought out pages that includes links to games specifically for kids as well as ones that are suitable for kids (though not made for them) and ones that can be tweaked or simplified for kids and links to pages where you can find out how to tweak them. It also has links to articles and email lists so it's definitely the first stop for any budding Game Master.

At that site I found two games I am more than likely going to buy, I just need to figure out if I want them as books or in PDF form.

Faery's Tale Deluxe looks like a fantastic introduction to the more formal RPGs.

The Big Night has a Christmas theme, simple game play that a child could probably direct and seems like it has the potential for a lot of humour!

And now I have to go loo around the interweb because I am SURE I saw a whole creative writing program based on an RPG. If anyone knows what I'm talking about, please comment!

UPDATE: Found the creative writing program! I mention and link to it in this blog post.


I'm am so late with this...

Carnival of Canadian Homeschoolers

Carnival of Homeschoolers (as a note, I got almost NO hits from this despite my submission. Or maybe my submission is why? It was the science post)

Carnival of Education

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Hair by Harry

I was having a bit of a day today. It was overcast outside and that was reflected in my mood - quiet, sullen and lazy. I don't know if my six year old saw that or if he was just in a makeover mood but in he came to where I was sitting, holding a hairbrush.

"Mom, take that off please," he said motioning to the do-rag on my head. I did.

He took the brush and for a good ten minutes brushed my hair, carefully pulling through some of the small knots (my hair procedure in the morning amounts to washing it in the shower and then covering it up). I'd sneak a peek and see that look of concentration where his eyes were fixed on the job and his tongue was almost, but not quite, sticking out the side of his mouth.

He stopped for a moment, I heard a sound and then he started smoothing my hair with his hands.

"Harry? Did you just put spit in my hair."

"Yes Mom. It makes it smooth."

Ah. Okay.

Once he was satisfied he wandered off and I though he was done. Not quite. Back he came with a small plastic butterfly hair decoration and a string of purple dollar store beads. He clipped the butterfly in my hair and put the beads around my neck.

"Now you look beautiful."

I thanked him and hugged him and he went off to play. I have no idea what inspired him but darn it, he made my day.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Math-U-See is in the House

For ages I've wanted to pick up Math-U-See. I had two intentions. One, to get Harry on a regular math program and two, to give Catherine review because she really loved the approach in the Math-U-See demo DVD. So I've been on the lookout for months on used curriculum sites and email lists.

Then I decided to unschool again and thought I might just pick up the ever-so-much cheaper Miquon to use as play with our Cuisenaire rods.

But you know how, when your ride is late for some important thing and just as you give up and head to the phone to see what's holding them up, they appear? Well, just a couple of days later on a Canadian used curriculum list up popped the old Math-U-See Foundation and Intermediate programs for $70. That's a whopper of a deal for what's basically four Math-U-See levels. Forgetting all about unschooling and Miquon, I pounced and miraculously, was the first person who responded.

15 minutes after I said I'd be delighted to buy them I remembered that I'd just committed to spending $70 on something I has decided not to use. Cue nausea.

Because I'm a coward I didn't tell the seller I wasn't interested. I still bought it and figured Catherine would still love the videos. Of course now I had a math program without the all important and somewhat expensive math manipulatives. Cue second wave of nausea.

I ordered the starter set of Math-U-See blocks (I was committed now) and waited.

The program hasn't arrived yet but the blocks came today. We ran up to the post office, got home and tore into the box. The kid's eyes lit up. Catherine played with them for an hour and had a ball. Harry got into them shortly after and darn it all, if all that nausea wasn't for nothing.

The cuisenaire rods were fun but it's with the Math-U-See rods that Harry is actually connecting the manipulative with numbers. It's obvious why when you take a quick look at the two kinds of manipulatives:

Or it would be obvious if I took a better picture (blue is MUS, orange is cuisenaire).

The Math-U-See rod has the ones marked right on it. The cuisenaire rods are smooth. First thing Harry did today was count all the ones in every Math-U-See block (except the hundred). Then he started measuring his Thomas engines with them. Then he started stuffing them in the container trucks and counting them. And the he started with the stacking because best of all, the Math-U-See blocks stack like Lego.

The nausea is well and truly gone. I stumbled into the math manipulative that seems to work for Harry and fit his style. Okay yes, it's the first day and there's always the First Day Gloss when new stuff arrives in the house but this does seem to get him playing with numbers in a way the pattern blocks and the cuisenaire rods and the poker chips and the many other manipulatives in the house haven't.

I'm happy. And it only took a small fortune to acheive that.

It's Good to be an Educational Anarchist.

Dana wrote the best bit on Educational Anarchy.

ImPercetibility made the button:

My contribution? Just a link to a most excellent BBC radio show, In Our Time, which explores the ideas and history of Anarchism. It'll give anybody interested a good quick run down of the matter. What did I take from it? A lot but most vivid might be the idea that when anarchy is used as an accusation it's often by people who have control over others against those who want to exercise control over themselves.

Monday, June 2, 2008

An Inspiring Science Read

This came to me courtesy of Lorraine, who frequently comments here but refuses to be lured into creating her own blog.

Put a Little Science in Your Life

It's a fantastic op-ed piece that communicates the wonder many people feel when they think about and get involved in science.

But here’s the thing. The reason science really matters runs deeper still. Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that’s precise, predictive and reliable — a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional. To be able to think through and grasp explanations — for everything from why the sky is blue to how life formed on earth — not because they are declared dogma but rather because they reveal patterns confirmed by experiment and observation, is one of the most precious of human experiences


If science isn’t your strong suit — and for many it’s not — this side of science is something you may have rarely if ever experienced. I’ve spoken with so many people over the years whose encounters with science in school left them thinking of it as cold, distant and intimidating. They happily use the innovations that science makes possible, but feel that the science itself is just not relevant to their lives. What a shame.

Like a life without music, art or literature, a life without science is bereft of something that gives experience a rich and otherwise inaccessible dimension.

The night sky is inspiring enough but to look up at it and realize you are looking back in time? To wonder at the fact that every time you blink you've defeated the incredibly weak force of gravity and yet it's the force that holds our universe together? To drink a glass of water and know that one element in a water molecule is as old as the universe? To have a cold and understand that means your body is now an epic battlefield between defenders and invaders? To know that there's a lab on earth right now where humans are replicating supernovas?


It's all so completely fantastic.

Go read the article, especially if you don't give science much thought or if it's doesn't really appeal to you. There's a lot of drop-jaw wonder and joy to be found in science and it's a real shame if you're missing out.

NOTE: I got carried away with the wonder of science and missed a very important point made in the article. I'm too lazy to write more right now but fortunately over at Homeschooling: A Family’s Journey the issue has been pointed out.