Welcome to my adventure. This blog started out focused on parenting and school but now that Katie's nearly baked, it's way more about me these days. My experiences, more likely my point of view and good times to share.
Welcome! I'm glad to have you aboard.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Homeschool! The Legend of Sleepy Hollow & Trains!

We have the coolest place in Santa Cruz - it's called Roaring Camp and they have old steam engine trains that take trips through the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains. And on Halloween, they have the ghost train based on the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

So, of course, I had to do it home school style!

I have been waiting years for Katie to be old enough to go on the train and not be scared. Of course I get a kid who's a fraidy cat, so I have had to pace myself on the scary stuff. (Although, we are watching Poltergeist right now in broad daylight and she's tolerating it well!)

Anyway, to give the train ride context, I downloaded the actual text of Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow and we read it over a few nights before the event. I had never read it before and it's actually really lovely. Great imagery, old English, good story. And it queued us up perfectly for the event.

Before the ride, we enjoyed the Roaring Camp camp. They had decorations, a haunted house (based on the story - it was pretty good) and snacks. Once on board, they tell the story - adapted to the constraints of being on a train - and did a good job of scaring us as we traveled through the woods, on a moonlit night in the forest.

It was a fun adventure and even better for me as Katie was able to point out where the event differed from the story (I was worried the old English might have made the story hard to follow but we had talked through a lot of the metaphor and imagery so it stuck!).

We had a great time and I highly recommend the Ghost Train for a great pre-Halloween family event!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bringing Amelia Earhart Back to Life

We are always looking for interesting ways to tie-things together so Katie can engage with a subject in different ways. With the release of Amelia, the movie, we decided to dive into Amelia Earhart.

On Sunday, we took our friend Sandra to the movie with us. Although it was a little long, we really enjoyed it. It helped us understand what an incredible feminist Amelia was - how she absolutely thought herself capable in a time when men were typically the heroes.

After the movie, Katie and Sandra planned a field trip to the Oakland Aviation Museum. Amelia started her last flight at the Oakland Airport. Sandra, born and raised in Oakland, had never been to the museum and figured they would have a great time exploring together.

Before they went, I made Katie watch one more show with me: The Final Hours on PBS. It was an interesting analysis of what went wrong on their way to Howland Island. How indicators showed that her navigator was likely on track but, because of a conflux of circumstances, she didn't follow his directions and they circled off-track to their ultimate death.

Finally, on Wednesday, Sandra and Katie hit the road and visited the museum. Katie really enjoyed it and liked seeing the actual places and artifacts from Amelia's life. Bringing it to life was really powerful for her. It was a great set of activities that made a lasting impression.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Show and Tell: Home School Style (this would never happen in public school!)

A couple of weeks ago Katie came home all excited because she found out she could bring one of her pets to share at school. This would be the end of one of the “inquiry days” and all she has to do was sign up to introduce one of her pets to the class.

And you guessed it: she wanted to bring a chicken.

As it turned out she was able to get the October spot and she didn't want to bring just one chicken she wanted to bring both of the babies: Hilda and Cosette. Of course for this to happen, I would have to pack up the chickens find a way to transport them and bring to school.

Thankfully they both fit in the kitty carrier and because they were raised together they didn't mind being crowded together when I brought them to school.

At school, Katie did a great job of introducing her classmates to the girls. Hilda completely freaked out,  jumped off the table and scared the crap out of everybody. Cosette turned out to be adorable and cuddly and everybody got to pet her.

I have to say the chickens were complete hit. And they didn't even mess up the kitty carrier!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hot Dog! The Kid's a Grass Roots Activist! It's all about 350!

We took two friends to lunch today downtown to the Saturn Cafe. It's uber Santa Cruzy - a vegetarian restaurant (I know! I eat there!) with the best FLT (that fake bacon) and grilled cheese in the world. And fat fries. Yum.

Anyway, we come outside to see another uber Santa Cruz moment - the 350 Rally is going strong. Traffic is being halted as a bunch of folks are pulling a car with their bikes right down Pacific Avenue. A parade of activists are on it's heels and Katie wanted to know why.

So she stopped a couple of the adorable grey-haired ladies to explained 350 to her and gave her a flag and encouraged her to get involved. That's all it took - the fuse was lit.

We buzzed home, me with my friend, Katie with hers and the girls got to work. They got on 350.org to learn more, made a sign, handmade little "business cards" and set off to share their passion with the neighborhood. Apparently they walked all over, while Katie went up to the doors of our neighbors and told them to learn more about 350 (see below for more).

The sign came out great and she learned a bit about being an activist. It's absolutely a cause she believes in - don't get her started about saving the earth - and I have to say I am encourage by her process: she learned, planned, expressed herself, shared and then we talked about it that night.

Home School POV
I am sure her friend didn't know what hit her. It will likely go down as the strangest play date ever for her girlfriend. But all I can say is yeah! home school. Because I am pretty sure she wouldn't have been so quick to consume knowledge if I hadn't spent the last two months showing her how to dive in! She's done thinking she just goes to a classroom where people feed her information - I can see the hunger in her now to tackle things and learn on her own.

This is soooo awesome.

About 350
On 24 October, people in 181 countries came together for the most widespread day of environmental action in the planet's history. At over 5200 events around the world, people gathered to call for strong action and bold leadership on the climate crisis. Read more>>

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Independence, Values and Helping Our Kids Find Their Way

I was born independent. My mom will swear to it. It was nature not nurture (I am sure my mom would have paid good money to get me to stop at many points during my life). Starting in third grade, I had a run-in with every principal of every school I attended.

Interesting story - in third grade the issue was fighting. I was in a fight. The principal called me in and as it happened, that day I had brought my brand new Bible to school with me. It was white with gold letters on the front that spelled my name. And I was so proud of it - I had earned it by singing in the church choir. Anyway, she leans over to me a quips, "Interesting that you were nice enough to bring your Bible to school but you weren't nice enough not to fight." I smiled back and said something to the effect, "I had to fight, everyone was hitting my friend and someone had to protect her. I think that's in the Bible." If only then she had admitted I had a point, things might have turned out so differently!

So you get the picture. I was principled and righteous and driven from the get go. And as I look back, I have often been caught up in a battle between what is required by the status quo and what I "know" to be true. Alas, I had to no choice but to be an entrepreneur. My glorious mentor will tell you that I became truly valuable to her when I stopped being her employee and became her consultant. The reigns were off and I could deliver the goods and worry less about all the constraints.

And I think this is one of the reasons home schooling is making my heart sing. All the crap has been removed. We are down to the chewy nougat and it allows me to align Katie's education with our values. I had the "a ha!" moment when I read this rather remarkable article in YES! Magazine:

Parker Palmer: Know Yourself, Change Your World: In the work you do each day, how do you distinguish truth from fraud, build community, and speak up for what’s right? Read it here.

Here's the premise: "Acclaimed educator and author Parker J. Palmer says most of us lack an understanding of our inner lives. If we learned in school how to navigate the inner landscapes of our lives, we might gain the tools to make it through difficult times, and clarify and act on our deepest values." Okay - this is deep. I highly recommend you read the article - slowly - you'll need to really think about what's he saying. Then think about how true it is.

The more we align ourselves and pursue our education in a way that reinforces that alignment, the more harmony we experience and possibly - probably - the more good we can do. What a gift to give our kids if that's how we help them pursue learning!

Alright, maybe you won't agree with me. But if way back when, in all those scuffles with authority, if just once one of those adults had said, "Jennifer, you make a valid point. I understand your position and I can see it's important to you and based on fairness. Let's see what we can do to change things." Wow. It would have been powerful.
It would have been life-changing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rant: Are You Freaking Kidding Me? Fifth Grade Standards...

I'm interrupting this blog for a brief rant.

We are relunctant home schoolers. I wasn't my original plan. And Katie insists she's returning to "real school" next year. (We'll see...) Anyway, I want to keep her somewhat on par with what fifth graders in California are doing. So I bought this workbook based on California Standards for language for fifth grade.

So we are plugging away today on a worksheet and while I think a lot of it is pretty lame, we kind of tolerate it. Joke about it. And I focus on teaching her about taking tests, how to answer based on what they want (not what makes sense) and that sort of thing. And then we come across this. I promise, this is the actual paragraph that cues up a set of questions:
"It happened that in the reign of Emperor Xaviar of Zelnod, a law was passed by Lord Vilma that all Utentots must leave Trivoli and move to Abundia," began Roland.
First, you should see what spell check thinks of that insane sentence - I read fantasy and sci-fi, but not as part of a test. Second though, and more importantly, what is the point of being so overly complex? We know we have kids who are learning to read, some for whom English is a second language. It's fifth grade! This is just a cluster. It creates more problems than it solves and out of context, it's totally nuts. It sets kids up to fail.

I am starting to become a bit of a home school fanatic. I am starting to understand what folks are fighting for. I am starting to believe this is one of the best things I have ever done for my daughter and even for me. She is learning so much this year and it's not based on "standards". It's based on life, context, meaning, purposefulness and interest.

Okay - I think I feel better now. I just had to vent. Wow.

Friday, October 16, 2009

10 Things We Learned from the Great California ShakeOut

Since I lived through the Loma Prieta quake in 1989, I have a pretty good sense of what the heck can happen when the earth decides to shake. I woke Katie up early for the big ShakeOut (because of class, we had to miss the 10:15 time) but it worked just the same.

For us, the “quake” hit at 8:30am, she was still in bed and her room was “wrecked” by the shaking. As we walked around and took in what might happen, we learned a few things.

1. Earthquake shaking is unpredictable.
Katie thought when we have an earthquake it would deliver a predictable, steady shake. But after watching a news report on KTVU, she realized the shaking would be pretty crazy. I think she’s better prepared now – at least on what not to expect!

2. Some places in our house are so much safer than others.
Looking around at what we have on the walls, our cupboards, shelving and more, we realized there are some places in the house that will really present a danger if the shaking is significant. The couch, our beds and under the island in the kitchen are probably the safest places to be!

3. There’s going to be a lot of stuff on the floor.
The corollary to number two is that if we really shake, there will be a lot of stuff on the floor. We like picture frames, glass and other knick knacks and we realize now, they will be flying around depending on which way the earth moves. I still remember all the stuff that flew out of the cupboards in 1989. I thought I would never get it all cleaned up (or own another wine glass!).

4. Putting on shoes is important.
Right after our “fake” earthquake, I pointed at all the fake stuff on Katie’s floor and told her shoes would be her best friend. In 1989, I never saw so much broken stuff. I wore shoes all the time for a month. I told her to always put on shoes before venturing out – even in the house – if she sees that things have flown off shelves.

5. We don’t keep our cell phones in a “regular” place.
In theory, our phones would have flown across the room. We would never have found them in the debris. Even in moderate shaking, an adrenaline rush is likely to make us airheads. We realized we don’t keep our phones in predictable locations. We will need to change that behavior right away.

6. We need to post a list of important phone numbers.
We used to have it posted before our remodel, but I haven’t put one back up. Katie doesn’t know who to call if she needs help (not that she could if the phone lines were down). But if the phones worked but we needed help, I need to have a list of important numbers for her by the land line. I am on it.

7. We need to expect aftershocks.
I kept the morning moving by announcing “aftershocks” as we made our way around the debris. She didn’t realize they would come that soon (or not) and that they could be strong. I emphasized that she’d already be very worked up from adrenaline and that clear thinking was her greatest ally. I think she got it.

8. Neighbors are important.
In one scenario, we talked about the chance I got hurt and she’d be on her own to get help. She remembered our usual plan – get a neighbor. We have some great ones and I am glad she knows they are available to help her if we get stuck.

9. Everyone needs to know where the fire extinguisher lives.
In the midst of everything, I told her a spark had caused an electrical fire near the microwave. She knew just what to do – grabbed the fire extinguisher and aimed. Good kid! I was relieved to know she knew where it was and how to use it!

10. Our extended family has no communication plan.
Perhaps the most embarrassing part of this whole thing. We are third generation Californians. All told, we have collectively lived through dozens of small, medium and even large earthquakes. But we don’t have our familial act together. I think we finally agreed on an out of state contact, now we just need to get our plan formalized. That’s our homework.

This was an excellent event. But it was only as good as you were willing to make it. For us, it was a real eye opener. I have a lot of work to do to get things in order. Just having our emergency kit, radio and light aren’t enough. We need to do more. But I feel much better even knowing what we need to work on. Thank you Great California ShakeOut!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009: Kids Speak Out About Going Green

Since we now turn everything around here into a home school activity, I thought I would drag Katie into the fray. Today's Blog Action Day 2009 and the focus is on Climate Change. So, I had Katie ask her friends if there were any brands they preferred because they are helping save the planet?

The answers were interesting and varied. Of course I started by asking her the question first as a test! 

Katie, female, age 10
I have always liked Nickelodeon. I think it’s really cool that they are focused on green. They have changed something that makes them more green. I know this because they told me (via commercials). I also make my mom buy foods that don’t have a lot of packaging – or it does, it should be packaging we can recycle. 

Ashley, female, age 10
We get reusable bags and I do recycling. I think people should ride in their cars only once a week to use less gas and create less pollution. Instead bike to school. 

Rose, female, age 10
I watch Disney Channel because I like to hear them talk about saving the planet. I have my mom buy reusable bags. We like to buy foods with less packaging because it’s good for the planet. 

Josh, male, age 10
We buy light bulbs that are good for the planet – the kind that contains mercury. I don’t buy much. We recycle the cans and stuff. I don’t buy stuff. 

Cassie, female, age 10
I got a t-shirt once that said if you buy it, it would give money to the environment. My mom has a lot of stuff (yeah mom!).

Milo, male, age 8 (but he’ll be 9 in 10 days!)
Katie decided to tape Milo (since he’s just next door). You might detect a little interviewer bias! Click here to see the video.

For still being pretty young, these kids are starting to be very aware.

What I noticed in our horribly non-scientific study was the kids who don’t have as much consumer experience, were less likely to be influenced by brands or have any ideas about shopping decisions. Instead, they tended to focus on the actions they take to help the earth – from using recycled bags to riding their bikes and changing lightbulbs.

My little consumers, on the other hand, had a little more sense of who has been sending them messages and what the messages were about (interesting that two TV channels aimed at kids are getting the word out about being “green”). And Cassie knew buying that shirt would generate a donation.

Josh always blows me away. He’s not a consumer, but he’s a big eater. He’s a great, down-to-earth, brilliant kid and when he told her “the kind that uses mercury” I thought he was nuts. Until I did the research and found out he was right.

And special thanks to Milo, who bravely endured an “in your face” interview and came up with some fantastic answers. His family is amazing and we are truly appreciative of them joining our neighborhood!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This School Day Interrupted by THE WEATHER!

As this amazing storm continues to pound Northern California, Katie decided to do a little weather reporting. Of course, within five seconds of going outside, she was soaked. It's crazy wet, and rainy, but I think you can get the feeling for what's going on! Holy smokes!

No more leftover typhoons: Melor, we are talking to you!

This just in - apparently this is the strongest October storm since 1962! Wowee...

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Great California ShakeOut: Earthquake Prep as Curriculum

In 1989, I was at the ball game when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit. Magnitude 7.2 or 6.8, I am not sure what they decided it was, but it was BIG!

We came out from the stands and saw what looked like all of San Francisco on fire. We could see the helicopters by the Bay Bridge and smoke rising from the Cypress Structure in Oakland. It took us hours to get home and I lived less than five miles away.

I grew up in California and I have been through dozens of quakes, but after that one, I had a new found respect for the suckers. As a result of that quake, the company I worked for ended up closing, I moved to Santa Cruz (hey, had to be safer now right - the big one already happened) and life changed completely. My mom worked for the State Attorney General and read the reports from the survivors and non-survivors of the Cypress structure (the freeway that pancaked people in-between layers of concrete) and the stories she shared were horrific.

Needless to say, I take quakes seriously and with the Great California ShakeOut coming this week, it seemed like a good time to do a little home schooling around the event. As we learned from Nova ScienceNow, we aren't the only ones who need to prepare - apparently the risk of an earthquake in the Midwest is pretty high - overdue in fact - so we invite you to join us in our preparation! 

Earthquake Preparedness Home School Style

Geology: Katie will be studying how earthquakes work at an activity session at our Home School center. That will help her understand the how and why.

History: the poor kid will have to listen to me and my mom talk about what happened and how it changed things as we relive the events of October 17, 1989.

Social Studies: is really around family and doing some planning. We'll start with the guide: Seven Steps to Earthquake Safety.

First - Katie will work with me to create a disaster preparedness plan for our home. She'll probably do one with gramma as well and share it with her uncles.

Second - I am having Katie drive family participation in completing a communication plan that we'll share with one another. Everyone will complete the plan and then share the pertinent details with one another. Most important is having a contact in another state that we will all try to call.

In 1989, the folks I knew in Chicago had to call my mom in Sacramento to tell her I was okay because we couldn't make calls inside the state (but out of state worked fine!). [There's also a Red Cross "I'm Okay" site where everyone should try to post if they survive a disaster.]

This is actually a lot of work and I hope she's able to get her uncles on board with this. I don't look forward to living through another big one, but considering where we live, there's always a chance. Are you ready for the next big one? What are you doing to prepare? Let us know - we are always looking for good ideas!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Reflections: Home School Camping Trip - It Was Awesome!

We had a great time camping this weekend with the home school gang.

In an effort to help us get to know each other, our home school team set up a camping trip for us to Big Basin State Park in the Santa Cruz mountains. We headed up on Friday evening (after a crash-burn afternoon of trying to get all my work done) and got there just at dark.

Katie and I built a fire, at some dinner and hunkered down to watch TV on the iPod. Okay - so we weren't really roughing it - but we don't have much time to watch TV these days so it was a great chance to catch up on some programming!

The next morning, we met the family next door. A great family who are also in their first year of home schooling, who eat junk food and wanted to mooch our fire. We loved them. They had an endearing baby who ogled everything we ate and charmed the heck out of us.

Another first-year family showed up in the afternoon to share our campsite. Thankfully, they were junk foodies too - I love that our gang totally knew how to camp! - and we munched and talked our way into the evening.

One of the boys was fascinated with the fire and was having a hard time leaving it alone. When he got busted the third time, he turned to the crowd and said, "Fine, if you aren't going to let me play with the fire, I guess I'll have to go play with my dad's hatchet!" I think he meant it innocently enough but he delivered the line perfectly and we roared with laughter! 

Last night we joined the others for the talent show. The kids were total spazzes demonstrating little talent, but a few of the adults brought instruments and made some lovely music. It was fun to be part of something so simple and easy.

We got home today exhausted, cold and happy. We got to hike, explore, hang and munch. Our clothes stink like smoke, there's way too much crap to put away and we are starving for real food.  But when I put Katie to bed tonight she was so happy.  She had a great time.

Home school is really giving us a chance to do new things with great new people.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Steve Wozniak Education and Creativity Talk: The Recording as Promised....

Here's the link to the blog that has the recording for the Steve Wozniak event. He talked about education and his enthusiasm was truly infectious.

And I guess, now you'll see one of the things I do for my "day job!"

Go WebEx!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Today's Lesson: The Webkinz Economy!

Here's hoping there are "educational" properties in Webkinz. Why? Because Katie has spent the better half of the week setting up house with her animals.

In an article by Allison Merlino, she writes, "There are various educational benefits to taking care of your virtual pet online. The concept of care taking maintenance is exercised in that the child feeds, bathes and plays with their pet in order to increase it's happiness. The child also must learn to prioritize "spending" and earn the "cash" needed to purchase items for their pet.

In a toy review, they say Webkinz are everything that the company promises - the company is Ganz. "
Overall, this kid-focused web portal seems to be everything it advertises: a safe and educational site for kids," they say.

Okay, so maybe we are on to something. Her interest in Webkinz started a couple years ago. I think our fist Webkinz was adopted in August 2007.  She was hot for the online game for a few months and then her interest waned. I, on the other hand, got hooked. I loved planting my garden and watching it grow. My garden provided fresh food for my Roary Lion Webkinz.

But this week, Katie has rediscovered her love. And it is layered with a whole new understanding. At 10 (rather than 8) she's much more tuned into money - earning and spending - and weighing the value of things based on their cost. She's more interested in "having a job" and earning extra money.

So I guess I will let the fun keep going. I was encouraged as she dragged each of her Webkinz to the doctor (for a checkup) and stopped the activity long enough to brush each animal's teeth. I think a few also got a bath and a shampoo.

Now if she'd just treat me that well! My feet could use a good rub!