Thursday, August 26, 2010

Nature Nearby

We try to do as much of our learning as possible outdoors. Even though yesterday was at times rainy or drizzling, we did some reading outside, and adjourned to the car when it got wet, to wait out the sun's return. Mikro gets a kick out of sitting in the front seat in the driveway. And I love the fact that the Blue Beast makes an excellent bird blind...

While we were sitting at our patio table earlier, Mikro spotted a gorgeous hummingbird drinking from my neighbor's window box of nasturtiums. I didn't have my camera, of course. After our small visitor departed, I ran inside and grabbed the camera, hoping the little green wonder would return...

Our patience was rewarded. Although it was rainy and dim, I managed to get a couple of shots of the hummer feeding from our butterfly bush, and perched on one of our old tomato cages. Wish the light had been better, but I'm thrilled to have had the privilege of seeing one of nature's miracles in my garden.

This seems to be a female Ruby Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). Males have the red throat; females and immature birds don't.

I was surprised to see the hummer and so many other birds out and about and feeding ravenously in the drizzle.

Some of our other dinner guests:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Just Commenting...

The NY Times' website published my comment on the hipster homeschooling piece they ran:

Homeschooling is a very misunderstood practice, subject to a host of stereotypes that pieces like this do nothing to dispel. The media persists in painting it as the sole province of religious fanatics or the extremely privileged. That is not the reality. I am constantly surprised that articles on this subject are not better researched. Homeschooling is a mosaic of people from all walks of life, from every conceivable background, who have a multitude of reasons for choosing this path, and who follow many different educational approaches. The generalizations, the highlighting of the most extreme philosophies and practices, and the dogged refusal to accurately portray homeschooling is not good journalism. The subjects of this article are keeping their preschool-aged children home with a tutor. As lovely as the situation sounds for the families involved, it is not homeschooling. My far less succinct reaction to this piece, and media coverage of homeschooling in general, with some home truths about homeschooling, is here:

Revolutionary and Civil War Reenactment Weekend at Constitution Island

We went up to Constitution Island on Sunday, for their Revolutionary and Civil War Reenactment Weekend. This is what was going on:

West Point's Constitution Island and the Constitution Island Association will host its annual Reenactment Weekend on Saturday and Sunday, 21 and 22 August, 2010, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. each day. 100 uniformed troops representing the American Revolution and the Civil War will perform an array of activities to include: tactical weapon demonstrations, inspections, formations, musket firings, artillery demonstrations, camp life, and drills. The event will feature non-stop activities depicting General George Washington's efforts to defend Fort Constitution and Fortress West Point over the course of the American Revolution. Additionally, this year's event will include a Civil War camp to offer a preview of the Sesquicentennial of the bloodiest of America's wars.

Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate, so the program had to be cut short. But we were thrilled to be able to tour the camp, learn about army life back then, watch musket drills from both periods, and learn about the history of Constitution Island and efforts to fortify the Hudson highlands during the American Revolution. The reenactors were from The Fifth New York Regiment, and enthusiastically passed on their knowledge to the kids.

Revolutionary War Musket Drill: Smooth bore musket; flint and steel.

Civil War Musket Drill: Rifled musket barrel; percussion cap.

No artillery demo due to heavy rains, but we did get to look at the cannon.

It was a soggy, but fun and educational day, made more fun by the fact that it was shared with homeschooling friends.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Science Fun at NY Hall of Science

Awhile back, I got discounted combination tickets to New York Hall of Science from Groupon, which included museum admission, Rocket Park Mini-Golf, and the Science Playground. We finally got out there on Friday, and Mikro had a blast.

First we played mini golf. The course has a space theme, and relates the physics of spaceflight to the hole. Some of the concepts featured are escape velocity, geosynchronous orbit, docking maneuvers, space junk, etc. This was Mikro's first time playing mini golf, and he was a bit frustrated. By the end of our 9 hole round, he had a little better understanding of how to swing the club, and how to choose a line for his shot. But he needs work on the physical coordination of it all... It *is* a challenging course, though. I really had fun with it. It was odd switching between demonstrating a left handed swing and actually playing right handed (I am a switched over lefty).

After golf, we were pretty overheated, so we stopped in the cafe for a drink, then headed to the special exhibit on the Amazon. We loved it, especially the fresh water rays and the twig catfish. The flood cycle exhibit was very interesting and really clicked for Mikro. He wasn't as amazed by the piranhas as I thought he would be, but he really liked the catfish biodiversity exhibit and puzzle.

Next, we attended the demonstration on Living in Space. We learned about microgravity, puffy face syndrome, bone loss in a microgravity environment, astronaut food, and astronaut potty training, which the kids got to try, in a modified way...

Then we were off to the Science Playground, where we played with things like sound, a 3 dimensional spider web, an Archimedes screw, a whirlpool column, a water wheel, and inclined planes (slides!)

When I have some extra cash, we will be getting a membership.

Why Does the Mainstream Media Reflect Only the Fun House Mirror Version of Homeschooling?

It seems that the mainstream media is dedicated to promulgating a distorted vision of the homeschool community, in which "most" or "the majority of" homeschoolers are religious fanatics, or else we are extremely privileged and wealthy hipsters. Apparently, the press would have America believe that we are all bigots or brainwashers, or too trendy and elitist to be taken seriously.

Here's the latest from the New York Times: In which a bunch of urban artistes with preschoolers apparently make homeschooling in vogue.

After the hatchet job that ABC did on unschoolers, I predict far more of the silly stereotyping, because most homeschoolers who don't fit the narrow media image are completely uninterested in signing up to be misrepresented to the world and ridiculed.

Perhaps someday the media will understand that:

  • Homeschoolers come from every race, ethnicity, socio-economic class, educational background and belief (or nonbelief) system. My homeschool group is far more diverse in every conceivable way than my neighborhood school. I do not homeschool to keep my child away from "people who aren't just like us" as the charge is often made. I homeschool to give him the world as his classroom, with all the wonderful diversity it offers.

  • Single parents and families in which both parents are employed can and do homeschool. We are not all wealthy. In fact, many of us have considerably downsized our lifestyle in order to be able to do this. And some of us have the laudable stamina and dedication to be able to do it in the hours when we are not working outside the home. The "homeschoolers are wealthy elitists" stereotype spits in the face of all the families making financial and personal sacrifices in order to follow this path.

  • We don't have to do it the same way the schools do, and are not bound by their choice of schedules or curricula. Homeschooling can happen in hours other than 9 am to 3 pm, Monday through Friday. Some of us learn in the evenings and on weekends. Some keep a year-round schedule as opposed to taking the long summer break that the schools do. Additionally, it does not take as much time to cover academic material with one or two of your own kids, whom you know better than anyone in the world, as it would in a school setting. Homeschoolers do not have the bureaucratic and crowd control concerns that you end up needing to address with large groups of children who are virtual strangers taught by strangers.

  • Homeschoolers enjoy an unbeatable student to faculty ratio. Our kids get individualized attention, and we do not need to subject them to standardized tests to assess their progress, because we are intimately involved in it. We have the luxury of teaching to our children's individual level, and taking as much or as little time as is required for them to master the material. We do not have to bore a kid who "gets it" with endless repetition because some of his peers do not. We do not have to leave a struggling student behind in order to keep pace with the average student. This is the tremendous advantage of homeschooling. The differentiation that public schools can only strive for, we can make reality. We also are not hamstrung by administrators requiring us to teach to the test, and practice practice practice the test, at the expense of real learning. Many of us decided to homeschool for just these reasons.

  • Homeschooling doesn't mean we just stay home all day, everyday. This is why we have no patience left for the uniformed inquiries about socialization. Homeschoolers are out and about, enjoying the real world, while schooled kids are stuck in an artificial age-segregated microcosm of society. Yes, there are some weird, socially awkward homeschoolers, just as there are some weird socially awkward school kids; it has more to do with personality type than educational choice.

  • Parents do not all need to be able to teach calculus and high school physics in order to even consider homeschooling. First of all, we can outsource those subjects to more skilled teachers, if necessary. There is an amazing wealth of curriculum materials and classes that homeschoolers can access. Secondly, while we may have forgotten what we learned in school, we are perfectly capable of learning a subject alongside (or just slightly ahead of) our children. We value instilling in our kids a love of learning and the ability to find the answers they need in life above rote regurgitation of a set of facts. Children can only be inspired when they see their parents learning and growing along with them.

  • Does the hypothetical horrible example homeschool parent exist who doesn't care about his/her child's education at all? Probably. Certainly there are parents who are utterly disinterested in their schooled child's education, and who do nothing to ensure that homework is done, or that studying happens. There are bad apples in every barrel. But unlike the school systems, homeschoolers don't think the hypothetical lowest common denominator should be used as an excuse to infringe the liberty of the rest of us who are doing the right thing. Nor do we believe that the government is entitled to dictate what goes on in our homes and families in the absence of probable cause to believe that abuse exists. That's the standard for government intrusion into family life. The fact that we homeschool doesn't mean that we have waived our constitutional rights to due process so that different rules apply. When the government is free to come into your house and check whether your kids did their homework, and not before, will I agree to have it look over my shoulder. Or maybe not. Because on that day, America will have ceased to be a free country. In the meantime, I will comply with the existing state regulations, and oppose any attempt to broaden state control over my family.

  • Homeschoolers in most states do not receive any funding whatsoever from the government. I think that Alaska and maybe a couple of other places do have some sort of financial aid available, but here in New York, and in most places, homeschoolers do not get subsidies. However, we do pay school taxes, from which we reap no personal benefit. Teachers are allowed to deduct supplies they use in the classroom, but not so homeschoolers. And most of us like it that way, because there are no strings attached, as there might be if we were accepting public funding. Public schooling is state action, undertaken with public funds, and that is why it is regulated. Homeschooling is a purely private endeavor in which the government should have no purview. So that is why we don't all agree with the premise that, "Well, if you are doing the right thing, why shouldn't you want your kids tested like the school kids? If you have nothing to hide, why not?" Because I'm not an arm of the state, responsible to the people, nor am I sucking on the public teat, and spending money in which the American taxpayer has an interest. I am raising my own child, and saving the system the resources it would otherwise need to be commiting to his education. Why that makes me a presumptive villain, I will never understand.

  • Ultimately, homeschoolers believe that the privilege and responsibility of raising our children and educating them belongs to families, not the government, and we are prepared to buck the system and do it ourselves, because we believe it is the best thing for our families. That is in no way a comment on what is best for anyone else's family, or a knock against people who send their kids to school. Everyone should be free to choose the best course for their own family. For us, it is homeschooling.

A Tree Walk

Last weekend, Kev, Mikro and I took a tree walk at Van Cortlandt Manor with an arborist from SavATree, and learned about some of the species of trees growing in our neighborhood. Mikro really enjoyed our walk and stunned me by not only volunteering to try wild cherries, but by *liking* them! He isn't usually fond of fruit, or adventurous about trying new foods... Other highlights were learning about the catalpa tree and trumpet vine, both of which are legumes! Mikro also liked the horse chestnut tree and its odd fruit. Later, we stumbled upon a doe and her fawn, who were grazing on the Manor grounds, and a shield bug (a.k.a. *stink bug*).