A Trio of Fairies

I mentioned in my last post that I was considering reviving a practice I had with my eldest daughter – that of writing under a supernormal persona.

With Dee, it was an elfling. I briefly considered using Iliana again, but she was special and really for my eldest. For Em, I needed a whole new persona.

In the original stories back and forth, Iliana had three fairy friends (they always come in threes, in case you didn’t know) named Pip, Squee, and K. Two sisters, and a brother. I decided to create a similar trio for Emily. And after googling Pipsqueak, I found the word Whippersnapper. Which I shortened to Whip, Snap, and Per – also two girls and a boy.

But where to put the first note? I finally settled on putting it, rolled up, on top of her new satin pillowcase last night.

Hooman Girl NAMED EM-LEE

Find us in the room of books.

W-S-P

“Mama! Look at this!” Emily was bubbling over with excitement. “The room of books, that has to be the library!” A moment later, “I found it! I found it!” She eagerly unrolled the slip of paper that had been tucked into a box of books…

Hooman Girl-

We have been watching you from time to time.

We wish to understand you, and all hoomankind better.

Here in this room of books, is safety, luck, and more.

Will you speak with us of the hooman world? We have heard of other hooman child friendships and you seem nice, but can we trust you? Are you a friend of the fey?

Our name is Whip, Snap, and Per.

WE ARE FEY

“Oh wow,” Em breathed, her eyes dancing, “Oh, this is sooo exciting! I have to write them back this minute!”

She told me later that she had tears in her eyes, she was so excited about this adventure.

She asked a bunch of questions in her next note back, which I now cannot find (yet another reason to have all of them in one centralized spot), and I responded:

Dear Em-Lee Hoouman-

Most excellent and advantageous yet prompt is your response.

Yes, we are fairies.

Whip – female, green hair, green eyes

Snap – female, red hair, greenish blue eyes

Per – male, black hair, blue eyes

Fairies come in threes. Did you ever meet Pip, Squee, or K? They live near the shed in your old house.

We are cousins.

We have questions for you:

Have you ever participated in a ritual war? Did you win?

What is your favorite food?

W-S-P

There was a shout of glee this morning at the discovery of this third note.

A Dose of Reality

Of course she knows it is me. Despite this, we both speak of them as if they are real. I can’t help but feel that this is our last chance at pretend, at a fantasy world that the two of us can create together, visit from time to time, and giggle over.

There are moments when I wish I had been able to have more children. A whole passel of kids, honestly. When I was just six years old I met a baby who shared my middle name – Danielle – and I could not wait to grow up and have a baby I would give that name to.

As much as she may wish to convince herself otherwise, I have always loved her and wanted the best for her. I will admit, it was very, very hard playing second fiddle to her dad for all of those years. He loved to dig at me and tell me how much she liked him and how little she liked me. It was hard.

But I did what I could, I tried to be a better parent than I had seen modeled, and to connect with her and love her. And with little Em, it is the same. How can I be a better parent? How can I be kind, yet firm, loving, yet disciplined? How do I raise another human being to be independent, introspective, action-oriented and more?

I don’t parent in a fog – every day since a few months after my 18th birthday has been filled with those questions. Each day I try and answer them as best I can.

Why Fairies?

So, why fairies? I dunno, it sounded like a good idea at the time!

Honestly, though, judging from Em’s reaction, this is JUST what she needs from me. An odd and whimsical combination of practice writing letters, fun fantasy, intrigue, adventure, bonding, learning about another race (albeit an imaginary one), and I’m sure I’ll manage to throw in some ecological and historical info into the fray as well.

A Proper Book

“I think we need to go and get a proper journal for communicating with your fairies,” I told Em this morning. The joyful look on her face said it all.

It took us some time to find the right one. We wanted a combination of leather journal, unlined pages, and the proper paper feel. It took a while. In the end, she found one she was happy with.

She drew a picture, wrote TWO letters, and has placed the book near the spot where she found the second note. I have explained to her that most fairies are nocturnal. She was disappointed to hear this, but at least now I can be sure I have the ability to retrieve, write in, and return any of her missives while she sleeps in each morning.

And who knows? As a friend on FB pointed out, “This is how JK Rowling started out!”

Posted in Bonding, Homeschool - Language Arts | Leave a comment

Real World Math and…Fairies?

Real-World Math

After flipping and flopping over how to teach math, I’ve settled on a plan of attack that seems to work. Real world math.

These generally manifest in the form of word problems.

Here are two from the other day…

And…

The second one took a few minutes, but the first one took us nearly half an hour as we worked our way through the problem, tossing out possible scenarios.

Me: So my usual preferred objective is to earn a minimum of $30 per hour. Did I earn more or less than that?

Em: More, definitely more.

Me: Did I earn a lot more?

Em: I think so.

Me: Double that?

Em: I don’t know.

Me: Great, let’s try some numbers out.

And we worked through multiplying 1.75 hours times 35, 40, 45, and even 50, before finally narrowing it down to just over $48,50 per hour.

She was pleasantly relieved when the grocery store problem was solved quickly.

I’m going to continue working with Em on real world math. It means that we don’t have a TON of math each week, but it will get pretty in-depth.

This eventually falls into my overall goal/question of: How do you raise a capable, self-sufficient adult?

That is the basic focus of education, isn’t it? You want someone who can balance a checkbook, understand interest rates, mortgage rates, sales tax and more. You want someone who is capable of washing their clothes, cleaning up their surroundings and holding down a job. There’s more, but that is for another post. Stay tuned.

We Dream of Fairies

This morning, as I was preparing breakfast, Em asked me, “Mama, could you braid my hair back into a ponytail?”

It has been a long time since Em asked me to do her hair. I don’t miss doing it every damned day, but I did miss it. I tried my best to brush out the handful of snarls deep in her golden locks of hair. As I did, and she flinched, I apologized.

She said, “Mama, remember the Tangle Fairies?”

Dad, who was finishing his breakfast, looked confused, “The what?”

I laughed, “The Tangle Fairies. I told Em and Danielle these stories about the Good Hair Fairies and the Tangle Fairies. It distracted them while I got all of the tangles out.”

Em nestled against me, “I loved them, and I always kept a sharp eye out for the Tangle Fairies. I believed you even after we moved here to this house.”

“It did seem to entertain and distract both of you.”

I related giving Danielle a “magic” hairbrush that the Good Hair Fairies had left out after one of their festivals. It was a tiny pinecone, no longer than an inch in length. “I told Danielle that it would take a while to brush her hair with it, but if she did, the magic brush would mean that she never had tangles.”

Em giggled and then asked, “And didn’t you used to pretend you were an elfling? For Sister?”

“I did! I could show it to you if you liked.”

We ran upstairs and found it – a journal which spanned intermittent entries over SIX YEARS. I had started it when Dee was just eight years old, and the last entry was when she was approximately fourteen.

Obviously, she had known it was me by then, if not all along.

I had started writing to her as Iliana Llorena Elfling, a summer elf that lived under her grandmother’s back porch the first summer we came here to Missouri in 1997. She had been so sad – missing her dad and her little half-sister, missing the only life she had ever known.

I remember thinking that if I could only connect with her on a level that no parent can ever truly do when our children are young – that of a friend – that perhaps I could help distract her, help her slide into her new life, and find happiness in her new world. Not just that, but as a friend and not her mother, I could laugh with her, be silly and fun and weird.

Yes, I could have done that last bit as her mother, but I hadn’t realized that at the time. I was too busy providing, protecting and guiding and feeling like it was ALL ON ME because, in the end, it WAS.

And let’s face it, it’s hard to be friends when you are also teaching your child, guiding them, and doing your level best to raise a capable, independent adult. I don’t know a single friend who will tell me to brush my teeth, clean up my room, or get back to doing schoolwork. Do you?!

Iliana became my alter ego. She was spontaneous, fun-loving, adventurous, creative, loved nature, and was self-assured, and surrounded by her people. All things that, for one reason or another, I was not and could not be.

As I read the entries to Emily today, she said wistfully, “I wish I could have a fairy write to ME.”

And as is my down-to-earth way I said, “But you would know it was me!” I thought a moment and realized that Dee had probably ALWAYS known it was me. It hadn’t mattered. She had still written back.

I guess it is time to dust off my magic pen and re-imagine a world which has elflings running amok within it. Or one with another magical creatures. One of whom will do what I, her mother, cannot do until she is grown…be her friend.

Posted in Bonding, Homeschool - Mathematics, Love, Parenting Techniques, Playful Learning/Learning Throug Play | Leave a comment

Logging Those Hours

In the state of Missouri, there is very little oversight for homeschoolers. IF your child has been registered with the public school system, then you have to send a letter each year informing them that you will be homeschooling your child.

However, if you have never registered your child in the state for public school, then no notice is required.

Weird but true.

The only other codicil I could find was that homeschooling parents must provide 1,000 hours (600 of which must be of core curriculum – Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies) of education per school year and, if necessary, show a log of those hours upon request.

So here is a quick, easy way to log those hours and keep basic notes as well as a running tally of your child’s hours for the year. Feel free to save this Excel spreadsheet to your own files and manipulate it how you please.

I’m also including a copy of my own file for this year as an example.

Sample Homeschool Log

Take a look, play around with it, and change it to suit your needs.

We school year round, but usually only four days a week. Despite this, Em does accrue hours on her “days off” depending on what she is learning and doing.

I keep notes on what we do each day. I try to list the names of textbooks or other learning materials.

After filling out the Notes section, I estimate times with each subject. I typically round to the nearest 1/4 hour and often a class she attends can go under more than one category (science and math, art and living skills) depending on what is happening in that particular class.

And speaking of “logging hours” here is a great write-up on the question of LITERAL hours of instruction. If that 1,000 hours of instruction has you running scared, read it and worry less. It really isn’t as bad as it might sound at first!

Questions?

Ask away!

Posted in Helpful Links, Homeschool Assessment, Legal Shmegle, Organized Homeschool, Tracking/Recording | Leave a comment

Complete the Story

How do you get a reluctant reader and writer to, you know, read and write more?

Do it with her.

Again.

And again.

And again.

Oh yeah, and make it fun.

I was in one of my favorite places – Barnes & Noble on the Plaza this past weekend. The day before Mother’s Day, a beautiful sunny day, and the Plaza was teeming with shoppers. Even Barnes & Noble was moving at a steady clip, folks shopping for Mom and more.

I was there to get a dear family friend a graduation gifts. Aliyah, once featured in my blog in an interview I conducted nearly seven years ago, was graduating from homeschool. Little Aliyah, all grown up and as beautiful and talented a girl as I could ever hope to know.

In any case, it didn’t take long for me to find the perfect journal, wrapping paper and a world map to gift to the special young woman she has become. And then of course, it was time to find out what other cool things there were there.

I found a couple more books for my Word Nerds class I’m planning to teach this fall:

Where Do You Get Your Ideas? – an idea-generating book for beginning writers

501 Things YOU Should Have Learned About…Grammar – which is more about the history of grammar and trivia

And then, the piece de la resistance…

Complete the Story – a book of writing prompts.

And that is what we are now working on today. Em and I had the same great idea. “Let’s take turns writing sentences,” she said.

“Exactly what I was thinking!”

So we have been writing 1-3 sentences at a time back and forth.

So here it is from start to finish. It all began with this writing prompt:

At first, we thought the black liquid was oil, that we’d struck it rich and that we’d be able to retire and live in leisure. We actually started writing down all the ways we’d spend the money. Our first choice was…

Em started…

Live in a mansion with many things in it. Our second choice was have a swimming pool.

Then I chimed in…

But then? We learned it wasn’t oil. It wasn’t valuable at all. At least, not valuable to humans.

Em continued…

Now we’re stuck with this black stuff, oh my god what is that????? Something is coming straight for us!

Me:

Della and I screamed and scratched each other accidentally in our haste to escape the creature that was rising from the dark muck. We backed up, tripping, falling, screaming again as it slogged closer and closer.

“Take her! She tastes better!” I said as Della fell in its path.

Em:

UM…I DON’T EAT GIRLS, I EAT BOYS…

Me:

I screamed then. Like a girl. High-pitched, shrieking. And you know what? It thought I was a girl and turned and walked away.

Della stood up, gave me the stink-eye something fierce, and actually punched me.

“You are one big, huge jerk, Donald Trump!” She said.

Em:

DONALD TRUMP???!!!! NOW I MUST KILL YOU!!!!

Me:

And you know what I did? I ran. I ran past my bodyguards, away from the White House, and straight out of D.C.

And the world was a better place.

THE END.

I’m not sure how or when it got political. I know at the first I imagined magic and magic gone wrong, maybe even the black gunk being the repository of evil souls. Well, wait, that last one might be accurate when referring to Donald Trump.

In any case, we had fun.

“Yep!” Em said, “We had fun. Now let’s read it again.”

And so we did.

Posted in Bonding, Homeschool - Language Arts | Leave a comment

Real Life Math

There were plenty of moments as a child and teen when I bemoaned having to learn mathematics. Especially algebra. So I prefer to use real-life examples.

This past weekend, I woke up to see in the weak morning light a typical scene…

Imagine a king-size bed, which can comfortably fit three human beings, or more if you are cozy.

On my 1/3 of the bed was me, and only me. In the middle and over a portion of my husband’s side of the bed, were our three dogs. I’d say about half of the bed was taken up by them. And my husband was curled into the small fraction that was left.

I got up and walked straight into my office to write the following question on my office blackboard…

I had a cleaning, and my husband is temporarily laid off from work, so he tackled this problem with her. Emily reportedly said, “Wow, this is an interesting math problem!”

They worked it out with pie charts.

I guess I’ll explain LCD (least common denominator) another time…

And here is what Em came up with…

Soooo much better than a boring worksheet. And she understood it and enjoyed it!

Math doesn’t have to be boring old worksheets or a long line of problems to solve. Sometimes it can be as straightforward as the problem above.

Next on my list?

Figuring out how much in purchases I need to make on my Capital One Travel Rewards credit card to pay for two one-way flights to Europe in 2020!

Round trip prices as well…

So if I have two $700 tickets to buy, I need to either pay $1,400 or have accrued 140,000 in travel miles. Which is the equivalent of spending $112,000. By April of 2020. That means an average of $3,111 per month of transactions.

Huh.

I’m thinking this rewards card sucks donkey butt.

Math Lesson for tomorrow: Why My Rewards Card sucks donkey butt

Posted in Homeschool - General, Homeschool - Life Skills, Homeschool - Mathematics | Leave a comment

Life Lesson 258: A Trip to the Dentist

It had been several years since Em had seen a dentist. A couple of months ago, she said, “Mom, I’ve got a dark spot on my tooth that doesn’t go away, no matter how much I brush it.”

So I scheduled an appointment for x-rays, an exam, and cleaning. Sure enough, the little princess had three cavities. Two of them were in baby teeth that appeared to be ready to come out and the third was in a permanent molar.

The doc recommended we leave the two baby teeth alone and just fill the permanent tooth and we scheduled an appointment for it to be done today.

And here is where I feel a little bad.

I didn’t exactly go into details on how a tooth gets filled. I sort of glossed over the and now you get a shot of novocaine that burns like motherfucker going in part. And Em was excited, EXCITED today. She held my hand and skipped into the dentist’s office and I remember thinking, Perhaps I should warn her?

I had told her that parts of the procedure hurt, but it was important to hold still and it would get done and that there wouldn’t be any pain when they took out the cavity in the tooth, and just some weird numbness during and after.

So the time for the shot came and the dentist said he was going to “jiggle her cheek a bit and to hold real still.”

Her entire body stiffened as the injection started and I watched her fingers curl into the armrests and her eyes get panicked. The nurse had one hand on Em’s arm and the other on her chest, ready to hold her still if she needed to.

“Hang in there, baby. Hold real still.” I said to her, “It will be over very very soon. This is the hard part and you are almost done!”

The doc patted her hand, asked her if she was okay, and then excused himself to let the numbness take effect. I was left to face the betrayed, hurt look. This was not what she expected, not what she had imagined. I held her, wiped away her tears, and told her how good she had done.

“The rest of it is easy, baby. You won’t feel it – and you just have to hold still for the doc so he can get the bad part of the tooth out and the filling in. You have done SO WELL!”

And compared to me, or her older sister who would actually fight medical procedures at that age and younger, Em held still and did as she was told. Another ten minutes later and we were walking out of the building, fresh tears drying on her cheeks.

And Em has stated quite emphatically, that she would prefer to never go back to the dentist again. “They are very nice there, but I never want to do that again!”

What I found fascinating was our talk afterward, as we drove home. Specifically, Em’s understanding of long-term versus short-term.

She described how she held still and cooperated in every way in order for the procedure to be over and successful as quickly as possible. “I just wanted it done.”

At that age, I couldn’t imagine anything but the pain right then and escaping from it. Likewise, her sister seemed the same way. But understanding that you need to go through an experience, even a painful one, in order to get to the other side – that’s a huge step towards adulthood. As adults, we know there will be times when we have to do sucky things, endure pain or discomfort, in order for our lives to hopefully improve.

I was so proud of her for seeing this, accepting it, and then moving through an uncomfortable experience with expediency and no small amount of grace. Watching it made me imagine her as an adult, and wonder at what life choices she will make, and the unique person she will become.

Along the way, we learned some important life lessons like:

  • When Mama says “Brush your teeth, or there will be consequences that you will not like,” you now know exactly what she means!

Em also understood that I hadn’t given her all of the details of what was going to happen because I didn’t want her to panic. I asked her afterward, “If I had told you that you were going to get a shot that burned like hell, would you have held still and let it happen?”

She laughed, “No!”

“Well, now you know why I didn’t actually say that. And I felt awful, especially when I saw your face as you were getting the shot.”

“Yeah, I understand why you didn’t tell me, but I was also kind of upset with you for not telling me at the same time.”

I gave her the rest of the day off from homeschool. And promised her a large ice cream shake for lunch. We don’t have crappy procedures like that every day, thank goodness, and I figured she could use a reward for being so amazing and mature.

“You know, I’m very proud of how you did in there, Em.”

“Thank you, Mama. I’m proud of me too!”

“Will you be better now about brushing your teeth?”

“Oh yeah, you bet I will! I don’t want to go back there anytime soon!”

My mission here is complete.

Posted in Challenges, Daily Conversations | Leave a comment

Our Current Language Arts Curriculum

One of the greatest benefits of homeschooling is that your curriculum can be as regimented or eclectic as you want. Additionally, you are able to tailor your approach to your child’s needs and interests. For us, that meant zero worksheets, copy work, and “boring” assignments.

Em is a lot like me – and I never responded well to worksheets or rote work of any kind. I will admit that my first internal directive was to require worksheets as “proof” that she was learning, but I quickly realized that homeschooling language arts had to be different if I was going to hold her interest.

In other words, the following is my approach. Which may or may not work for you and yours. My goal is to raise a capable writer. What she does with that knowledge, whether she pursues a career in writing or simply has the capacity to write effectively, is up to her.

Weekly Spelling List

At the beginning of each school year, I download the grade-appropriate spelling list from k12Reader. It consists of 36 weeks of spelling lists, and the lists grow from just eight spelling words per week in first grade, all the way to 21 spelling words per week in 5th grade.

At this point, we have just 11 weeks to go on the 4th-grade spelling list. Since we homeschool four days a week, year-round, with plenty of breaks here and there, I will just go straight into the 5th-grade list on the week of June 5th.

On the first day of the spelling test, she reviews the words, writing them while spelling them out loud. I administer the test, and whatever words she misses I write in cursive next to the word.

Use of Dictionary and Thesaurus

We recently began going through the list and defining the words as well. I usually tell her it is time to test me. If she doesn’t know a word, I try and explain what I think it is, and then we look it up in the dictionary. Growing up, when I didn’t know a word, my dad would always say, “Look it up.” I hated that, but I also value the information a dictionary gives me so I’ve arrived at the compromise of giving it my best guess (which is usually accurate) and then participating in looking it up. Em has quickly learned how to find the words and it has promoted good dictionary use. Occasionally we grab for the thesaurus as well, in case the definition gives us trouble.

“Spelling Words Gone Wrong”

The last part of the weekly spelling list on Day One is to make a story out of the spelling words Em missed. She can incorporate any of the other spelling list words she wants, but she has to include all of the missed spelling words in her story. We refer to this creative adventure simply as “spelling words gone wrong.” I typically ask Em to “fill a page” with her story.

This fall when I teach a spelling bee/writing oriented class at our homeschool co-op, I will incorporate Spelling Words Gone Wrong into the activities. It promotes creativity and has been a great deal of fun!

Mix of Printing and Cursive

Em finished her cursive handwriting practice book at the end of 2016, and while I like to have her continue to practice those skills, when she takes the spelling test she tends to make small mistakes if she writes the words in cursive. For now, I’ve just asked her to print them. I write in cursive the correct spellings next to the mistakes and ask her to do the same when she practices writing the words correctly.

Introduction to Editing

Next week I plan to add an additional element to Em’s language arts curriculum. That dreaded aspect of the writing process…editing.

I want it to be as fun as possible, and as low-stress as possible, so I’m still working out the details. I may edit her work the first few instances, probably by first reproducing it on the computer, and then showing her some aspects of Microsoft Word (including how spell-check and grammar check work) and then the basics of writing dialogue (new paragraph with every speaker) and other tips.

Em knows how to type by touch, something I insisted on, so now is the time to establish her writing portfolio on the computer as well as practice those typing skills while she learns how to edit.

Promoting Without PUSHING

Ah, reading. By the age of ten, I would have happily spent my entire day reading. But Em is a different bird. I have to respect those differences, but also encourage her to read more, because it will make a difference in her life. So I promote reading without pushing it.

I have yet to find the magic combination that will unlock a thirst for reading. For now, I keep showing her new books, in a variety of genres, and buying plenty of graphic novels for her to read. She responds best to those.

Feed your child’s interests!

Support Materials

Journaling – I also try to have Em journal at least twice a week. Recently Aldi’s had art/coloring journals for sale and I wish I had bought all three! Em loves to color in them and also write on the lined pages.

Letter and postcard writing – I ask her to write to family and friends. Sometimes this works out to once a week, other times it is once a month. Recently, on a trip to *Barnes and Noble, we picked up some coloring postcards. She loves these. She colors the postcard on one side and then writes a short note to a friend or family member and then mails it.

Q&A a Day – A few years ago I bought Q&A a Day for Kids and also Q&A a Day for me. These are just short questions and answers that we do on an intermittent basis. They certainly are fun to look back on from year to year!

*Barnes and Noble has the Educator Discount Card which gives you 20% off all purchases.

As I mentioned above, we homeschool year round. In order to somewhat match the schools, this means that I start a new school year each August 1st and run it through the end of July. We still have plenty to do before the “end” of the fourth grade. The writing and reading is so important. I believe it sets the foundation for everything that follows – critical thought, creativity, and communication. If I can create a strong base of writing, then we will be able to focus with greater intensity on the other core subjects at a later time. Meanwhile, I’m tackling math, science, social studies and other non-core subjects on a daily to weekly basis, but with less intensity. Language arts come first.

Posted in Homeschool - Language Arts | Leave a comment

Raising Future Adults

A post by a friend on Facebook got me thinking, and not for the first time, on that inevitable day in the future when my little one flies out of the nest.

She wrote…

As I think about my sweet oldest child turning 16 this year, I thought I’d ask a question of the hive. What are the things a person needs most before becoming an adult? I’m feeling like time is short and I want to give my kids the best gift I can before they leave home– how to make it out there.

He knows how to cook and wash his clothes. He knows how to balance his check book and file his taxes.

How do you prepare for college? Not the coursework, but all the rest?

What do you wish you knew during the ages of 18-24?

My dad has always said, “I wasn’t raising a child I was raising an adult.” And while he could have gone just a little easier on treating me like an adult (which magically reversed when I hit my teen years and he removed all freedoms I was used to having and didn’t want to be taken away), he had a good point.

What is it that we hope for from our future adults? And what steps or lessons do we need to engage in to get them there?

When Dee was little, maybe age six, she couldn’t tie her shoes. She would come to me and ask for me to do it. As I tied them for her one day I asked, “When do YOU think you need to know how to do this?”

She shrugged and said, “I don’t know. When I’m eighteen?”

I couldn’t help but laugh, shake my head, and then proceed to not only set her straight but start her working on that particular task – tying her own shoelaces then and there. It also set the stage for many discussions on the subject of parenting, age-related goals, and her future as an independent adult.

Adulthood doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t even magically happen at eighteen. It is cumulative – a gradual training to let go on the part of the adult, while simultaneously preparing the child for the transition.

The answers to my FB friend’s question above have been thoughtful, kind, insightful and practical.

I wrote…

Learn to listen to your gut. If a decision feels wrong, even if it is promoted by someone older or (supposedly) wiser than you, take it in, consider it, and then make your own decision. And never allow another human being to tell you who you are.

The basics are important, it is essential that our children know how to:

  • Cook
  • Clean
  • Care for their body
  • Understand finances and maintain a budget
  • Find employment and keep it

What else is important? As Melanie asked, what do you wish you knew at the age of 18-24?

Posted in Daily Conversations | Leave a comment

Cello Practice – Tears and Farts

We are so lucky to have an amazing music program here in Historic Northeast Kansas City. I want to say that first because, in the end, that is the most important part of this little homeschool story.

Em was in the first group of students to begin in January 2014 at Harmony Project. As residents in what is considered an economically depressed area of the city, all of the students who attend music class at Harmony Project are given free music lessons, equipment, and musical training. No matter what the parents earn, or what economic status you are, if you live in the community your child can participate as long as they maintain good grades, are well behaved in class and don’t miss too many classes.

After learning how to read music, participating in the choir, and being introduced to the recorder, Em chose the cello and received a child-sized, gorgeous, shiny new stringed instrument in August 2014.

Did I mention that this was all free of charge? Including the equipment?!

There have been ups and downs – in practice (which happens less than what is needed) and sometimes in interpersonal relations with the other students. In the first months of Harmony Project, Em was the ONLY homeschooled student. Now there is a total of five students who are homeschooled, while the remaining children attend public or charter schools. Before the other homeschoolers joined her, she was teased by the other children.

“You can’t learn at home, you have to go to school. Homeschooled means you aren’t learning anything.”

That lasted until she pulled out the multi-syllable words, led the class in modeling responsible behavior and won the hearts of the teachers. After that, kids didn’t tease her and she made friends.

Practicing has always been difficult, however, more so now that her training continues to accelerate 18 months later. And today, she was in tears, and not for the first time.

Her teacher is intense, but I know she also has kindness in her, as do all of the Harmony Project staff. Em was frustrated over her own lack of progress and worried that her teacher Ms. Ezgi would be disappointed in her. We talked about it, and she tried one of the pieces again, only to end up crying even more. “She’s going to be mad at me!”

“Ms. Ezgi wants for you to do well, Em, just as much as we do. And I know you want to do a good job as well.” I counseled her, “Would it help if I talked to her?”

She shook her head miserably. We tried another piece. As she played, I did what I promised I wouldn’t do, I sent a letter to the director, Ms. Carmen Espinosa, and told her of my plight…

Carmen-

Em was practicing today on her cello and was in tears. I feel very bad even telling you, because she asked me not to say anything to you or Ms. Ezgi.

Over and over we say to her, “The best way to get better is to practice.” She knows, and she is trying, but is very, very discouraged right now.

I know that the arts are demanding, and I will understand if the following request is out of line with the teaching etiquette, but if there is any way that Ms. Ezgi could take Em aside and tell her she recognizes that Em is trying, and improving, it would give Em the “atta girl” she needs to keep trying. But please ask Ms. Ezgi to NOT say anything about me emailing.

If this isn’t appropriate, I understand. I just want Em to stay in the class and learn more about music. She has such a love for it, but she is also a little girl who wears her heart on her sleeve and feels that she is failing Ms. Ezgi and the rest of the class because she cannot seem to learn as quickly.

I will work with her on practicing more. No matter what, please do not say anything to Em about me emailing you. She is determined to fix this on her own. I just wanted you to have a heads up.

A few minutes later, I received a response…

Hi Christine,

I really appreciate you telling me this. It´s hard for me to keep track with so many students…

I will talk to Ezgi and I´m sure she will have some encouraging words for Emily today. And we will all keep your email a secret.

And also… I know Emily is a very sensitive girl, and we know she is practicing hard. And we are proud of her. But please please please tell her that music is supposed to be fun, as frustrating as it might seem at times. The frustration should never overcome the joy of learning music, because if it does, something is not right, and we have to figure out what that is.

Let´s hope she gets more motivated after class today.

And please keep me posted… I appreciate it, because I really care about my students and hate to see them cry!

Thank you!

Carmen

I felt so relieved! Just a few words of encouragement from her teacher will keep this little girl practicing more than ever.

As I read over the email silently, Em’s bow work across the strings of the cello made a distinct fart sound. We both had a good giggle over that!

This evening as I picked Em up from her class, I asked, as I always do, “How was class?”

“It was GREAT! Mama, you were right, all of that practicing paid off and I got all of the notes right and Ms. Ezgi was happy and she told me I did really, really well!”

Broken promises or not, that’s one I don’t feel bad about breaking. It was just what my little girl needed! Harmony Project, and its teachers and support staff are such a gift to our neighborhood. We are very, VERY lucky to have them!

p.s. I’m finally finding an approach that works when Em practices. I don’t know if this will work for other parents, but feel free to try it!

  1. Be Present – We are present during her practice. Either my husband or I sits and listens while she plays.
  2. Give Limited Feedback – I know nothing about music – I can’t read it and I have never played an instrument, but I wing it. “So that last bit right there, it seemed kind of hesitant. Or perhaps off. Do you find it difficult? Perhaps you can focus on that?”
  3. Encourage Practice – As a child, I was told I was smart, over and over. Which resulted in me completely losing it when I was presented with a challenge. Instead, I tell Em, “Practice and practice and practice. With repetition comes improvement.”
  4. Encourage challenge – When Em hits a part that she finds challenging, I often suggest she work on that small part a little more. “Choose what is most challenging to you, and play just that.” This hones her focus on the trouble areas.
  5. Encourage Honest Self-Assessment – Instead of answering Em’s question when she asks, “Did I do it good enough that time?” I ask her, “What do you think? Is it the best you can do right now?” She isn’t playing to please ME. I want her to reach out and stretch her abilities, and feel proud all in her own right.
  6. Mix it up – Have them play outside, in the park, for their friends, after dinner, or in different parts of the house. Music is portable and who knows you might meet along the way.
  7. Have FUN! – I’m taking Carmen’s advice to heart. We giggle when the cello “farts” and we revel in the long finishing sounds at the end of a piece she is currently practicing!
Posted in Community, Homeschool - Music | 2 Comments

Buzz, Buzz, Sez the Bee

Last week I took Em and her friend Emma (the two Em’s!) to see a free showing of Akeelah and the Bee at the Westport Presbyterian Church. They have movie night every 2nd Friday and this was the first time we had gone.

I laughed, I cried, and I tried to spell every one of those words. The girls sat in the pew in front of me. As the final national bee came to its suspenseful conclusion, the girls were clutching each other in excitement, eyes riveted on the screen.

“Pulchritude,” said the judge on the screen and I quickly recited it out loud.

We clapped along with the audience on the screen and grinned happily. Em had tears in her eyes. “I loved that movie!” She said, wiping at the tears.

“Me too!” I told her, a huge grin on my face.

It brought back such happy memories. In the sixth grade I participated in the school-wide spelling bee and nervously lost to the word carfare. I tried spelling it carfair.

The next year I made it to the county level, and the same the year after that. I don’t remember what word I got wrong in the first county bee, but I do remember the second…alcoholism. I stuttered on the ‘h’ and they thought I said it twice and disqualified me.

And then I was off to San Francisco, to private school, and they didn’t participate in the spelling bee.

After watching the movie, and smiling every time I thought of it and my own childhood experiences, I put out a note on our local homeschool group about it, asking how (or if) homeschool groups could participate.

And before long I was paging through the Scripps Spelling Bee website for details on how to get started. It turns out that for $145, our group of homeschoolers can participate in the spelling bee, all the way to the National Bee, if luck is with us.

Em is not a huge fan of spelling, so I don’t have any pie in the sky fantasies about standing next to her winning the National Bee. What I do hope for is this:

  • That together with some other interested moms, we can encourage those spelling-minded kiddos to learn more about a wide world of words
  • That we can help build better reading, writing and spelling skills through the study and practice of words
  • That we can jump into the etymology of words and discover some of the history and trivia behind their meanings.
  • That we will build everyone’s vocabularies and enjoy expanding our knowledge base.

So I’m planning on that for LEARN SCENE classes this fall, and possibly in the spring semester as well. Who knows where this could take us?!

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