July 15, 2012

Parenting from Afar

Homeschooling invades your personal space...all day long...every day. If you want to homeschool, you must not mind having your kids around that much, and most of us would probably say we like it.

The Fam about 10 years ago, including Missa's friend Spot
So what's it like to finally have your kids move out of the house and begin their adult lives? Culture shock. Extreme culture shock. But I've been working on easing the transition since 2008 when Peter moved away to college. For one, I started this blog in an attempt to capture all the memories and all the lessons I've learned. I also started graduate school to get my teaching certificate up to date and hopefully add a masters degree. That's been keeping me busy and giving me a new focus.

Missa (18), Meg (20), Peter (22), June 2012
Meg moving to India has been harder than I expected. She's been gone almost a month, and we try to communicate every day. Hearing her struggles and not being able to do much about it has been hard. But I do thank God for the Internet. At least we can talk through things in real time. I remember spending three weeks in Hong Kong in the mid 1980s, and it was basically a communication blackout. I feel old saying this, but my, how times have changed! We've even figured out how to use Google+ and get everyone's face online talking at once!

She passed out in the market one day, and that really scared me. She was with a friend who caught her and got her home, but that was a particularly trying time for Ole Mom. Then there was the night she didn't get online as usual, and this led to a very long day for me, waiting to hear from her in the evening (which is her morning). She's starting to feel more comfortable over there, and I'm starting to relax about her being there.

Missa (who moved to Chicagoland this summer) texts me every day. Peter, on the other hand, doesn't communicate as often, but he's a boy, right? I'm glad to say that even though we're moving into this new stage of life, we are all still close...in heart...if not in square footage.

July 9, 2012

How to Find the Right Books for Your Readers

If you have a reluctant or struggling reader at your house, there are probably two things going on:
  1. He hasn't found a book he's interested in.
  2. He hasn't found an interesting book at his reading level.
Interest plus reading level. That's the equation that leads to engaged reading. And once your child is engaged, he or she will feel more confident, will learn new things, and the positive momentum just keeps going, gathering reading ability as it rolls.

I've never been a big fan of reading levels. It just sounds too much like grade level, and I'm all about keeping kids away from being labeled or categorized. But there is a lot to be said about finding the right match between readers and books.

If a text is too hard, no matter how interested you might be, you'll give up and not read it. It's like being drawn to the front cover of a book only to find it's written in a foreign language. Not much enjoyment there.

Some kids are great at the Goldilocks method of choosing books.  They start to read and, argh! too hard. Get another one, yuck, too easy. Get another one, ah, just right! But other kids give up too quickly. That's when mom or dad have to put on their reading teacher hats and find those "just right books" that will hopefully hook the reader before he knows it.

Here's How to Do It

I'm going to walk you through an easy way to find a bunch of books that combines your child's reading level with his interests.

Go to lexile.com. At the top of the page is a quick search. Enter the name of a book that your child can read with hardly any mistakes (99% accuracy). This will give you his lexile level (sorry I keep using a masculine pronoun. I know girls need this too).

The lexile of that book is a number followed by the letter L. A lexile is a measurement of text difficulty that is determined by sentence length and word frequency. Nothing about age-appropriateness. That's for you to determine.  

Let's say you entered the book Frindle. The lexile for Frindle is 830. Now look to the right sidebar. Follow the sequence you see in the picture below.

  1.  Set the sliding "Lexile Filter" to 100 points below and 50 lexiles above your book's lexile (in this case our book lexile is 830, and looks like I could have set the upper level even higher. Oh well.).
  2. Remove the name of your book so it all looks blank like I have in the picture.
  3. If your child is 6th grade age or above, check HL (High-Low). This means "high interest, lower level." These books are intended for older kids who don't want to be reading "baby" books. 
  4. Scroll down just a little and hit "update." That should give you a bunch of books to choose from. 
  5. Extra credit: Write down or memorize the original book's lexile, then hit "change" near the top.  Type in the lexile number in the "Lexile Measure" box and hit "submit." This will take you to a page of interests you can select. Then hit "submit" and see what happens.
You can read book descriptions there, and go to Amazon.com to "look inside," and check Goodreads.com for reviews. Surely you'll find something to entice your reluctant reader.

I think I'll do a few posts about book levels this month. There's just so much to say!

(top photo credit)

July 7, 2012

Getting Used to an Empty Nest

June was a whirlwind with Missa moving to the Chicago area, Peter graduating, and Meg moving to India. Once the dust settled, I looked at my husband and said, "It's so weird living here by ourselves!" I started following him around and calling him "Roomie."

It's weird, but I'm getting used to it. It helps that Missa texts me good morning and good night every day, and I usually get to talk to Meg once a day on Google Chat (and video is free through that too!).

The upside is that my phone charger stays were I put it, a pan of brownies lasts longer than a day, and there aren't 10 pairs of shoes at the door!! Yes, we only had one child living here the past couple years, but for some reason, her shoes never made it upstairs. And her friends would leave shoes (and eat brownies). Anyway, you get the idea.

The house actually stays picked up from day to day, a feat I never thought I would accomplish. But you know, these sorts of things aren't important at all, just a nice little perk to graduating from homeschooling.

I'm glad to have my reading teacher practicum this summer. I have one 7th grade girl who is a couple grade levels behind in her reading ability, so I meet with her three times a week, give her diagnostic tests and prepare lessons. I just love it, and it's getting me over the goodbye hump.

June 26, 2012

Meg is in India!

Saying goodbye at the airport last week. I look happy here, but I cried all the way home.
My second child is taking a year off of college to follow a dream. Since she was a little girl she's wanted to go to India and help the children there. Now's her chance. She will be teaching English and music to underprivileged children in North India. She arrived last week, school starts this week, so there is a lot going on in her life right now.

She started a blog called A NutMeg Narrative to chronicle this adventure. She even has a short video of her new home.

Meg had a hard time learning to read when she was young, so I think it's ironic, poetic, even victorious that she's going to be a teacher!

June 21, 2012

It's Official

 June 9, 2012: Thousands of people on the University of Chicago quad, but only one stood out to me.

Congratulations Peter! Graduating with honors. It was a very emotional day. Pride, nostalgia, and a bittersweet realization that life is changing for all of us. A couple of people I don't even know told me, "Congratulations," and I nearly burst out crying.

Mr. Alum has a job too, working as a legal assistant or something of the sort for a law firm in Chicago. He's using this time to decide what he really wants to do with his life. 

May 18, 2012

Graduation Time...sigh

The problem with homeschooling and attachment parenting is that you get attached to your kids. I started this blog four years ago when Peter (our oldest) graduated from high school. Now he's about to graduate from college and Missa (our youngest) is about to head out the door. That's the last one. After Missa moves to college, all my children will live somewhere else. I've been pretty brave about the whole thing, but last night I cried my little heart out.

But this is what parenting is all about, right? You love them like crazy, try to give them the best, most stable childhood possible, then they become mature, confident young adults, ready to tackle life. Bye, Mom and Dad! Thanks for everything! Yes, that's the goal. But it sucks. I forgot that I was growing up too, that at some point I'd graduate from child-rearing. Even though I started back to college last summer, doing all sorts of independent, grown-up things, I forgot that the days of kids running in and out of the house were numbered. Running out. With all their stuff. Waving goodbye.

But, hey, my kids are pretty attached to me too, so I know they'll come back and we'll keep in touch. Missa says she'll text me everyday, and we plan to all live in the same town eventually. The girls want me to homeschool their kids (ha!) and Peter talks about being in a homeschooling co-op someday.  It will all be OK. It's just graduation transition time. Talking it through helps. A little.

Peter is graduating with honors from the University of Chicago, and we are very proud of him. He called today to say he just finished the oral defense of his BA paper and got an A which means he'll graduate with honors from his department as well as from the overall college. Go Peter!

Meg has finished two years of college and has done very well. Next year she is taking a year off to teach English in India. She is thrilled! It's a school for underprivileged children, and along with English, she'll teach music. This is a dream-come-true for her, so I'm happy but nervous at the same time.
Missa is heading to the Chicago area to study criminal justice. She's been an intern with our local police department this past semester and is looking forward to learning more about that field. Last night we attended her final high school choir concert. They gave all the seniors a gift and read their "advice to underclassmen." Here was Missa's: "Be nice to everyone because you don't know who might end up being famous or a member of the mafia." Everyone laughed. Classic Missa.

So, this weekend we have a little open house to honor Missa, and in three weeks we attend Peter's graduation. Then a couple weeks after that we take Meg to the airport to fly off to India. It's a good thing I have a class this summer to keep me busy after all these goodbyes.  

February 4, 2012

Reading to Your Kids

I am a month into my third semester of graduate school. I just love it. The best part is finding out that interest-led learning is really the ideal. Teachers try to tap into kids' interests and build motivation for learning, but it can be hard when there are so many other things they have to do--like standardized testing.

One of my teachers said a very interesting thing last week. She said the best reading program is to get a boatload of good books and read, read, read! I thought that was great advice for homeschoolers who have the time to actually do it. :)

So, when you read to your kids--and all ages like to hear a good book--talk about what you are thinking as you read. Kids learn a lot about how to understand what's going on by getting a peek at your thinking process. But be balanced about it. Sometimes my kids would complain that I was breaking up the flow of the story too much. Just gauge their reaction and keep it fun.

October 20, 2011

My Two Seniors

OK, this isn't the greatest picture of me and what is Missa doing with her hands? But Peter looks cute. We're sitting on the window seat in his new dorm room. He is officially a senior (I mean a 4th Year) at the University of Chicago. He thinks he might want to find a job after graduation and give himself some time to decide if he wants to go to graduate school. Missa is a senior in high school and wants to go to college in the Chicago area. She still wants to go into law enforcement. Meg is a sophomore in college and still really loving her coursework in Family Services.

Me? I am half way through my second semester of graduate school. I am learning a lot about the realities of public school. Lots and lots of testing. Kids are tested and tested and tested, and teachers are supposed to get them up to a certain level every year. Yikes. I am so glad we had the option to learn at home.

July 11, 2011

Search Engines! and a little update

I have my first three graduate courses under my belt. Yay! I loved them all. Since I am no longer homeschooling but still immersed in the world of education, I think I will continue to write in this blog. As I learn little things here and there, I'll pass them on. For example, I have discovered a treasure trove of search engines.

I remember the days when I had to go to the library and thumb through the card catalog to find resources. Now I can access "libraries" through my computer. But the Internet is so BIG! So here are some search engines that are safe for kids and direct you to the good stuff:

TekMom  This is a well-organized page with all sorts of search engines to choose from.

KidsClick! describes itself as "a web search site designed for kids by librarians - with kid-friendly results!" Search by topic, word, Dewey Decimal range, media. Yes, very nice.

Ivy's Search Engine  Lots of search engines and specialize links.

Kids Search Tools Combines several kid-friendly search engines onto one page.

Awesome Library  Thousands of sites organized for students and educators. Click on who you are!

Browse the Dewey Decimal System  Pick a topic and find amazing online resources

My most amazing personal favorite:

Database of Award Winning Children's Literature   A librarian organized award winning children's literature in all genres. You can chose the reader's age, the historical period, the gender of the protagonist, the book format, etc. All I can say is "wow." Narrow down your child's preferences and a list of books will appear. Magic.

Update on my kids: (thank you Sarah Joy for reminding me)

Peter will be a senior in college this fall. Yikes! He is staying in Chicago in a house rented with friends, working on an academic project and participating in a reading group with a professor in his field. He's still not sure what he wants to do after graduation. Stay tuned. :)

Meg will be a college sophomore this fall. She finished her first year at a state university with all A's and B's. I add that because you may know that she was a struggling reader until she was 10. Hang in there and have hope! This summer she took two classes and is working half days. The big news for me is that she moved out of the house. She and a couple friends rent a house near campus. When I was taking classes I got to see her everyday because she works just down the hall from my classrooms. I even got to introduce her to my professors and classmates. She is very proud of me and even thinks we should try to take a class together.

A tree branch thwacked her across
the face during a night hike.
Missa will be a high school senior and will be applying to colleges this fall. She just got back from a two-week hiking trip in the Rocky Mountains where she climbed Pikes Peak and learned how to survive in the wilderness! I'm amazed at what she can do.

Now that I have about a month before my classes begin again, I plan to organize all my homeschooling materials. Since part of my graduate course work is writing lesson plans, I would love to be able to locate books that I know I have somewhere! I also have household projects calling my name, so I'll be plenty busy the next few weeks.

As always, please feel free to send me questions!

May 26, 2011

My Next Chapter

Both Meg and Peter are in college and Melissa has only one more year of high school (in public school). So what's an education nerd supposed to do with the rest of her life? I've decided to pursue a masters degree in elementary education, focusing on reading instruction. I love the idea of helping kids of all ages overcome their reading difficulties.

So now I'm a student! I started my first class last night and loved it. We even got to spend an hour in the hallway during a tornado warning. Bonding time.

This summer I have three classes, but the other two won't start for a few more weeks. That's good because I need time to get my student mind back in gear. It's been 23 years since I took notes in a classroom. :)

Meg and I are both students at the same school. She finished her first year of college with no problem at all, loving (most of) her classes and doing very well. She is even contemplating a minor in English. Her early reading difficulties inspired me to jump into this field and get my credentials. 

I probably won't be blogging much during this chapter of my life, but in the end, I look forward to translating what I learn into helping the homeschooling community.

As always, please ask questions. That gives me ideas for posts.

Happy Summer, Everyone!

April 12, 2011

Jump Starting an Interest Led Education

Today I got a great question from a reader (keep them coming!):

What if my kids don't know what they are interested in because they have not really thought about that? How do you get them started on the process of interest led education?
The key to success in an Interest-Led homeschool is opportunity. A child in an empty room will not grow intellectually or socially. You need to make sure he or she has lots of interesting things to choose from. Go to the library at least once a week and let your child check out books and videos. Go to nature preserves and theater productions. Take classes at the park district. Usually something will awaken their curiosty and they can run with it. When that interest grows cold, they can find a new one.
When You Get Stuck
Sometimes you just can't think of anything and everyone seems bored. That's when I got out my copy of The Core Knowledge Curriculum by E.D. Hirsch. Today, thanks to the Internet, you can download it for free! It lists all the things a child at a certain grade level should be learning (according to Mr. Hirsch). Think of it as an educational wish list, not a to-do list. If you try to cover everything on the list at every grade level, you'll probably drive yourself and your kids crazy, but it's a great resource for ideas.
You could even use it as a record-keeping device. Just jot down dates in the margin that reflect when your child covered that topic.

>Download guides for preschool through eighth grade here. 

>Learn more about the Core Knowledge Sequence here.

Remember, these guides are intended for kids in the public school system. It's a way for schools across the US to plug into a common curriculum path. The truth is, not all kids in the 3rd grade learn about the Northwest Passage (as found in the Core Knowledge guide), so don't let this guide freak you out. And even if they do cover it in the 3rd grade, how many remember it by the time they reach high school?

Make your homeschool a fun, active, rich learning environment that follows your child's learning style and interests. And when you need some ideas, glance at the Core Knowledge Sequence.

January 6, 2011

Staying Healthy with the Five W's

When the kids were younger, staying healthy was a constant battle. With five people in the house, it was rare to all be sniffle-free at the same time. One day I decided to make this important concept easy to remember. I thought through my advice list and realized they all started with W! (well, sort of...)

How to Stay Healthy

1. Wash your hands often.
2. Stay Warm.
3. Drink plenty of Water.
4. Take your Witamins everyday.
5. Get plenty of West.

Once in a while I remind them of my five W's and they just roll their eyes.Yesterday Missa wanted me to share it with a friend of hers and we all busted out laughing! Laughter is good medicine, you know. We couldn't remember #2, so she texted Peter and Meg. It became quite the topic of conversation. When I finally remembered, I decided to blog about it so I can have a permanent record and let you in on the secret to staying healthy. :)

December 30, 2010

Don't Even Blink

A new year...sigh...Time is such an interesting thing. Some of us rush through it, others trudge through it, some savor it. I think I'm a savor-er.

It all started with a TV broadcast of Our Town by Thornton Wilder when I was in junior high.The scene that changed my life is in Act 3 when Emily comes back from the dead, back to her childhood kitchen, to all the hustle and bustle of breakfast.  She laments, "It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another." I cried through that scene and vowed to pay attention in my life. 

On my wedding day, I kept looking at my groom as the pastor gave his sermon. I was determined to memorize exactly how he looked standing next to me in his black tux.

I journaled through each hour of labor and delivery (after the fact!). And I filled a dozen notebooks with memories of our three little ones.

I would sit and just watch them. I'd listen to their conversations, marvel at their abilities, and laugh at their antics. We must have the funniest kids on earth! Lots of eye contact, lots of conversation..I didn't want to miss a minute of their lives.

And what is the reward of such immersion, such rapt attention? Children grow up. There's nothing to watch anymore. In fact, I spend most of my days alone and I have to fight feeling sorry for myself.

Just like becoming a new mother, learning and adjusting to the situation, I have to learn to adjust to mine. A new season of life. That's where I am now. 
 Something special happened this week. Everyone is home and we drove an hour to an Indian restaurant, just the five of us, crammed into our little car. This was a monumental feat with young adults aged 21, 18, and 16. Just being in the same room for more than an hour takes a week of planning! But it's that time between Christmas and New Years when everything's on hold and everyone's schedule is pretty flexible. 

The Indian restaurant was wonderful. From the first bite, the memories flowed. Missa was eight, Meg was ten, and Peter was 12 when we all went to India. It was such a fun trip, and everyone talked and laughed about the things they remembered.

On the ride home, someone had to stop for the bathroom, a little jabbing, a little whining (all in good fun), and I just had to laugh. "Now this is normal," I thought. It wasn't all that long ago that we were taking long car rides with three small children. I had flashbacks of hysterical crying, but even so, great memories.

I know most of you are in the middle of the child-raising season of life, and here's my advice to you: Pay Attention. I know it feels like time moves in slow motion, but it's a mirage. It's actually flying by. Don't take the battles and difficulties too seriously. You are experiencing the metamorphosis of a human being. Create positive memories that will bring you together in the future.

Once I find my new "normal" I'll let you know. But for now, I'm just glad I didn't blink.

You can watch my favorite Our Town scene here on YouTube.  

December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from our family to yours

Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
John 1:29

December 17, 2010

Fist Fights and Socialization

Peter is home from college, Meg is finishing up her first semester of college, and Missa still has a few more days at the high school before Christmas break.

This morning Peter, Missa and I were hanging out in the kitchen. Missa was telling us about a fight she broke up at school. She was changing clothes in the PE locker room (where there are no teachers) when she heard a couple girls fighting. One girl was screaming at the other and shoved her against the locker and was on top of her. The rest of the class backed up to watch the fight, but Missa grabbed the aggressor, threw her against the locker and held her down so the other girl could get away. Yes. My policewoman in training. The three of them ended up in the principal's office, but she didn't get in trouble because there were enough witnesses to say she broke it up.

Peter's comment: It's a good thing those girls didn't miss out on this important socialization opportunity. They might have been maladjusted if they were homeschooled.

Missa: It's a dog-eat-dog world out there and it's important for kids to go through it.

Peter: But this sort of thing doesn't happen in the rest of the world, except maybe in prison. I've never once seen a fist fight, except on school grounds. (Peter was a teacher's aide in a 4th grade Chicago classroom for a couple years).

Then she told us about a teacher who had her leg broken when she was pushed down the stairs, trying to break up a fight. All the kids just stood around watching. Granted, kids get in trouble if they are part of a fight, no matter if they start it, are victimized, or try to stop it. But come on. Where is common human decency? Where is the willingness to do what is right, whether or not you get in trouble?

And another story: A kid on crutches walked up to another and whacked him across the face, knocking him out cold. He is now in a home for troubled kids.

Just yesterday a group of kids got into a brawl at school and someone pulled a knife.

All this in our little farm town that only has one high school and a population of 20,000 people. No wonder more and more families are choosing to homeschool all the way to high school graduation.

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