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.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

We're Back! Five Things I Am Loving About Public School

Okay, so I talked about how much I miss home school and already ranted about one of the things that worries me about being back at public school, but to be fair, there are so many things I am truly appreciating about being back I wanted to share my list. So here goes!

My daughter is exhilarated.
For Katie, public school is the bomb. The kids, the rush, the busyness: it was made for her. I think Junior High is the perfect fit. It's so cool to see her so excited about school again. She tolerated me and my home school adventure. But now she's alive with learning in a totally different way.

The consistency is blowing me away.
They are organized and consistent. The school has a few common strategies for teaching (a planner, Cornell Notes, academic language, Promethean Boards) and that consistency is evident when Katie brings home her class work. They are using the same language and the coordination is awesome.

The teachers are amazing.
I have always held public school teachers in high regard. There is no other job that requires people to do more with less on a yearly basis. Yet  somehow they are inspired to be more creative, to identify new ways to teach and to inspire kids to learn. I was actually worried about this school before we got there.  Then they hired an amazing new principal and so I relaxed. But I was an idiot. The teachers there are a hidden, incredible asset.

These men and women are teaching kids during the most difficult years of their life: puberty. Yet they are motivated, inspiring and thoughtful. Katie comes home with stories of (what I consider to be extreme) patience, persistence and insight. She's learning about life from these adults in addition to the actual coursework. They are talking about college and drug abuse and relationships. It's not political or charged, just basic good advice that many of these kids are hearing for the first time.
I am totally impressed.

Katie's demonstrating real initiative.
However things are coming together, whatever the teachers are telling the kids and it's working for Katie. She comes home and does her work. (Maybe a little too intensely but it might ease up.) What I am seeing is real ownership of her homework and a desire to please her teachers. It includes her preparing things for the upcoming day of school and staying organized at home.

I embrace the diversity.
I mean diversity in a few ways - ethnic, gender, socio-economic, aptitude, attitude, all of it. In home school, the group actually tended to be kind of homogenous (in a weird way). But now that we are back in public school, I feel like the mix of students better represents the mix of people you have to deal with in life. All kinds of people with all their quirks and foibles.  

I am glad to have Katie back in a more diverse population so she can learn to navigate through that complexity. If I truly want her to be a contributing member of society, she has to do that by embracing what makes us different, not by being isolated or self-selecting into a group of that are too similar.

I could go on, I am sure things will get better (or worse? - yikes!). But right now, I am choosing to ride the tide of goodness that is coming from being back in public school!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Local County Fair Delivers Food, Fun and Self-Esteem

Where else can you see piggie butts!
We are so very lucky to live in a county that still plays host to an annual county fair. I hear fairs are closing down all over the United States and I think that’s just a shame. There’s nothing better than the sites, sounds and smells of agriculture, junk food and lots of animals!

Katie has participated in the fair since she was four (I have dragged her to the fair since she was two!). Her first entry was a painting of a chicken (yep, long before we had chickens, she was into them!). She got a second place ribbon.
Two years old!
She comes from a long line of fair participants. My brothers and I all entered exhibits, my mom won for her famous watermelon pickles, my grandparents entered in their local fairs and my cousins have won big awards for their animals at the California State Fair.

Today we picked up Katie’s ribbons for this year’s entries: a first place for her photograph of our chicken Lily; first place for her ceramic tile; and first place and a special award for her veggie art. First time she had such a wonderful clean sweep!

Award-winning  photo
The tile got a blue ribbon.
And she is fired up. She feels so good about herself!

I love our fair. They are generous with ribbons. They provide written feedback on the more sophisticated exhibits. We saw some friends picking up their stuff today, their ribbons fluttering in the breeze, huge smiles on their faces. We told them we saw their entries, they said they saw Katie’s entries. The fair helps sustain this wonderful sense of community.

I know it takes a lot of work to run a fair. I have no idea how much it takes to break even. I give a virtual hug to all the volunteers who make ours happen. And I am ever grateful for the big dose of self-esteem it gives our kids.
"Veggie art"  

Good fun. Good neighbors. Good times.

Next year I encourage you to take some time, help the kids find things to enter and go enjoy your local fair!

This just in! My friend Susana just published her blog about the fair with an interesting perspective on kids and winning and losing. Read it here!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I've Got the "Oh Crap We Are Back in Public School" Blues...

The "Study Nest" where it all happens!
I know it's temporary, it will pass, but today I got a kick in the teeth that reminded me of why I pulled Katie out of public school in the first place: she came home defeated. She worked really hard on some homework, I checked it, it was good but she got a poor grade because of interpretation.

Yep. That's what I am calling it.

I have no idea if her teacher understands how hard she works on things at home to do her best work. I don't understand what it's like to look out at a classroom of students - many who could give a crap about being there - and have to not only teach, but motivate them to work hard and learn. But Katie's not one of those kids. At least not yet.

She's into it. She spent two hours on the damn thing.

And yet, when she got to class, the homework was redistributed, kids graded each other's papers and if the answer wasn't what the teacher was looking for, it was marked down. I believe it the teacher had actually seen her answer, she might not have been marked down.

Either way, I have a totally frustrated kid.

I want this to work. I actually have a half-written blog about all the things that are delighting me about her new school. But today sucked. I wish so much that there was "space" in public school for kids to succeed but not have to do it in the same way. I mean sure, in math class, there is a right answer. But in classes like literature where interpretation is essential.

I spend my days working with folks in Silicon Valley and the most dull and useless are those who behave prescriptively. I am blessed to be able to work with bright, creative people who push themselves to look at things in new ways. Or to combine unlike items. Katie does that now. I don't want it beat out of her.

But I will take it day by day. I will hope for the best. It's just the third week of school. It's going to get better, right?

In the meantime, I guess it's time for a quick trip to Baskin-Robbins to try and save the day!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

10 Things I Miss About Home School: Part Two

Pat the real Hamster in a Littlest Pet Shop creation.
Oh, a quiet morning - just like the old days - and a few minutes to finish writing. I love it! Here's the top five things I really miss about home school. You can see part one, with the other five things here.

5. No crowds.
Now that I am forced to do things "when school is over", I envy those of you who  can go out with your kid when no one else is there. You know, daytime. No other kids, no lines, no crowds - the world is your oyster and you don't have to wait in line to eat it! It made traveling, museums, shopping all such a breeze. Savor it because after 3pm or on the weekend, it's ugly out there.

4. Having breakfast together.
We did this a lot - I'd pack up her stuff, we'd get a huge booth at one of our local diners and we'd eat, talk and do school work. One of our best lessons was at a Denny's, with Littlest Pet Shop in tow and I talked about cooperatives - using different Pet Shop toys as creatives, manufacturers, distributors and buyers! Now we shove cereal in our mouths as I rush to make lunch and she packs her backpack!

3. Creating "learning".
Okay, so it's kind of an ego boost to come up with a good lesson. And I enjoyed being "clever" - figuring out cool ways to bring ideas to life so Katie could learn things in a new way. I felt so good about it, I even blogged some of the ideas. And I miss that feeling of accomplishment.

Sure I love what I do for work, but this was different. I got to tap my experiences, passions and current events and bring is all together in a way that I hoped would delight and teach my child. Now that she's back at public school, I am seeing the rewards of my labor and I feel pretty darn good about it.

2. Self-reliance.
Katie is an only child. She's also an extrovert. Which means she gets energized when there are people around. In fact, she finally started doing a good job cleaning her room when she could have the noise of Hannah Montana on (via iPad and Netflix streaming because she's not allowed to have a TV in her room). So being home schooled meant she had a lot of time on her own; alone.

At first it was really hard. She was so lonely. But over time, she finally got in a groove and used the quiet time for some amazing creative play (this has always been her strong suit anyway). She created an elaborate cardboard car, including an ignition and a way to wear it around the house. I know it doesn't sound like much but the scale and detail were spot-on!

I feel like she gained really great coping skills being on her own and they made the summer a dream. I can also see her tapping those skills now as a way to give herself a break from the chaos of middle school.

1. Watching her learn.
Many times during home school, I felt like a voyeur. When your child is "at school" you don't get to see those "a ha!" moments. The teacher does. And if you are lucky, the will come home and tell you about it. But with home school, you are right there. Part of the mix. It was delicious.

So many times when we were doing a project or on a field trip, I could see Katie putting things together. She'd ask great questions and many times it was while we were driving or in-between things - clearly while her brain had the interstitial time to process. I worry a little that at middle school, with all the changing classes, books, teachers and more, her brain won't have that kind of time. But I am sure it does, it just will happen later in the day (and I will have to make sure she has a little quiet time for things to actually bake).

I have a half written blog about what I am liking about middle school. There is a lot to like. But this month, I am also going to grieve a little for what we had last year. It was great. Really great. I will treasure it forever.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

10 Things I Miss About Home School: Part One

Last year was great. I really did like home school. 
Sure it pushed me to my limits balancing work and teaching, but we had so many great adventures and experiences. With the start of this new school year, I couldn't help but look back and think about those lovely home school days (top ten, countdown style):

10. Sleep.
Let's face it. Anyone who home schools knows this is an immediate and enduring benefit. I believe home school kids must be taller because they can sleep to their natural clock and I did too! 

Turns out I have a night owl - which is great for doing things and sucks for getting to bed early for a new day a public school (8am is insane). I miss those days of getting up early, having the house to myself and letting Katie wake naturally and in a good mood.

9. Sick is sick; aka no deadlines.
Katie's already missed two days of school. ALREADY! She got the crud from being packed like a sardine next to other germ-laden kids. In home school, she did get sick but she didn't miss class as a result. We just moved things around. So there was no pressure to do make up work and "keep up" with the class. This weekend we are spending the whole "feel better" time catching up on school work.

Which brings me to the deadlines part. I knew life in public school meant deadlines. But that doesn't mean I have to like it. I watched Katie learn a ton last year but it didn't include timed tests, piling on the crap and doing everything at some break-neck pace. I have enough deadlines at work - add school to the mix and maybe this is how mom's end up drinking their dinners!

8. Not going it alone.
I had a home school parent buddy. It was great. She kept me motivated, had ideas about things the kids could do together, we could bitch to each other when we had a bad school day. Now I don't have that anymore. Public school doesn't bring parents together (except for insane fundraisers which should not include the "fun" prefix). Family members also got in the act with home school. I loved the village that jumped in to help Katie learn about things I didn't know!

7. Field trips.
My forte. Coming up with cool ways to bring social studies, history, even math to life. I loved looking for real world examples and integrating that into the curriculum. From Columbia State Park to the Big Trees to spending the night on the USS Hornet, it was all good. Sure, I can still do it, but now it has to fit into after 3pm on a Friday and home by bedtime on a Sunday night. And include time for homework just  in case! 

My wanderlust is dust.

6. Total flexibility.
Don't want to do math today? No problem. We'll get to it. Reading the wrong book. Let's change it, I want you to read more than I worry about what you are reading (turns out magazines work great for Katie). Love science? Let's do more of that, and I will throw in some related math and reading and you won't even know I gotcha! And we can do it today (insert any freaking day)! 

As an entrepreneur, you can only imagine how much I love being creative and home school fed me along with Katie. If I could dream it, I could do it - just about all of it! Home school even tapped the spirits of those around us - my mom, my best friend, Katie's donor and more - everyone got inspired and had something to share, add or do. And since there was no timetable, our flexibility allowed it to happen.

Come back to read part two. I should have it done shortly, if we can just get through this pile of "out sick" homework. Anyone know how to draw the term "scientific method"? Seriously. Draw it.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Day One: School Starts; Hello Sixth Grade!

After plenty of preparation and excitement, we managed to get the child off to school.

Sure she was up at 6am. Of course she was ready and dressed by 7am. We needed to pick up her girlfriend Ashley at 8am (no one goes to school alone on the first day) so we had lots of time to stare at each other. About an hour to be exact.

(Her best line - let's just get in the car and drive around! My retort - where? To Los Gatos!?)

I dropped the girls off in the swirl of kids and cars at 8:05. They bravely jumped out of the car - I say brave because Ashley had had a stomach for the last seven days totally dreading this morning - but Katie sprang from the car with a bound. I made my way home to my first day of interrupted work in ages.

So the first day, she got called to the office. 

She's eating at first period lunch with her friends and over the loud speaker she hears her name and the ultimate command - please come to the office! Turns out the kid was supposed to be in class - she actually had been assigned second lunch. That got her good.

Her day was awesome and she was so excited about being there. I was bombarded with a ton of "parent paperwork" that felt like home work. But the good news is almost all the teachers asked me to tell them about Katie and what she might need to be successful. Katie had some home work too along the same lines.

Also, all the teachers - the whole school in fact - use this great planner in an effort to get the kids to start keeping a calendar of dates and deliverables. It's no Outlook, but it's pretty cool. I really like how the teachers are consistent across all the classes.

Here's her schedule: 
Period 1 & 2: Language arts
Period 3: Video production
Period 4: Math
Period 5: Science
Period 6: Social Studies
Period 7: PE

Not too shabby - got to love the last period PE - kind of ensures good hair days since she doesn't have to change until the end of the day!