19 December 2011

What Really Matters

I mentioned at the end of my post about friends that beyond being excited about learning and treating other kindly, there's not a whole lot I think my children need to grasp right now. (Granted, they are currently 5, 3, and 1.)

And don't get me wrong, we do "study" things in our home kindergarten and even have an "agenda" that we follow, sort of. But it's mostly for fun and because Agent E enjoys it, not because I think if she doesn't know how to do certain things by a certain age she will be woefully behind. 
Mmm . . . DVD
But still, I can't help but think about what I "should" be doing with her in the future. I guess the big looming question when it comes to our homeschooling going forward would be: What do my kids need to know? 

I'm trying to think big picture here . . . that whole "begin with the end in mind" thing. As we wrap up our first semester and plan our next, I'm looking ahead to one, five, ten years down the road. What would I like to see my "graduates" doing?

(I should probably note here I am intentionally leaving life skills studies off this list . . . a separate post coming soon.)

As a writer and lover of books, this is at the top of the list for Momma. When you know how to read, you can research anything you want on your own. Without getting too philosophicrazy, it truly does open doors to new worlds and new experiences. I would include here comprehension skills, a good working vocabulary, and the ability to think critically about what is read/researched. For writing, I want them to be able to use written language well, including but not limited to crafting a persuasive or creative written work, understanding and using grammar/punctuation correctly, and knowing how to spell. (Oh, and I also expect good handwriting skills and yes, I will teach them cursive writing.)

Beyond foundational math skills, I'm really not so sure on this one. A working knowledge of the basics, simple algebra, practical geometry, and how numbers lie statistics is important. However, I think I would allow their own interests in the subject to determine how much we delve into higher math. (Do you remember being totally stressed out in high school calculus class? Do you ever use it? Was it worth it?)

Here again, I think it's important to have a broad knowledge of the basics, and we will include introductions to biology, chemistry, physics, environmental science, earth science, geology, etc. etc. etc. However, as with mathematics, I will let their interests guide what we choose to pursue further and what receives the most attention.

I list these together because I think their connection is so important. I also feel this is where the educational system failed me. Knowing the history/government of your own country, as well as having a solid grasp on world history and geography, is critical for being able to think globally and truly be a "world" citizen. When I first considered homeschooling I listed this as one of the primary educational and life goals for the Agents.

We will introduce foreign languages from the get-go. This year we did Italian, only because we live here and not because it's a particularly useful language to know in the grand scheme of things. Next year we plan to do Spanish, and after that maybe French. While I hope that someday each of the Agents will decide on their own to pursue more in depth knowledge of a specific language or languages, for now our studies are pretty general and mostly about fun vocabulary, a few useful verbs, and conversational pleasantries (which is about where my Italian skills end).

So these are some things I keep in mind as I plan for our 2012 "school" year. As with everything else in this process, it is subject to change. :-) Question for you now, dear reader: What would you add? What would you delete? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.
Photo break while unwrapping presents

16 December 2011

First Semester, Done!

It's been a while since I posted a homeschooling update and linked up with the Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers Weekly Wrap-Up. (My last link up was back in October, following Week Six.) 

A few random thoughts as we end our first semester of Home Kindergarten . . .

While Agent E loves school with Mommy (even on vacation) she has noticed that she is doing something different. She even suggested perhaps next year she could have school at home Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and go to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Will be interesting to see how this plays out after we move this summer. Maybe she thinks homeschooling is just something we do in Italy?

Yes; we color the table, too
Our preferred mode of teaching/learning is . . . coloring. Anything can be introduced through a few printouts and a box of (washable) crayons. (Agent E loves a good worksheet, so that helps.) I print out several each Sunday afternoon, based on what our plan is for the week, and then she chooses which ones she wants to do when. She enjoys checking out Mommy's Big Binder of Fun Stuff and pulling out word searches, math problems, maps, or whatever else and then coloring them while she works.

I find that she talks a lot about what she is doing while she colors and it naturally evolves into a great "learning" experience. For instance, if she's coloring a picture of Spain, she might start reminiscing about our trip there, and then want to see pictures of our visit to the Barcelona Zoo, and then want to color pictures of animals, which leads to a "lesson" on mammals, which leads to questions about animal habitats, which makes her think of other habitats, like oceans, which means then we're talking about sea creatures, and then reading The Little Mermaid in Italian, and . . . um, yeah.

Morning fun at our house
I could write a lot more, but I'm always late posting these (or never get to it at all) because of the time difference. :-| Suffice it to say, nothing about this experience turned out as I expected. And I already have at least three other posts drafted discussing all the things I've learned and want to do the same or differently come January. 

13 December 2011

My Sweet E

Agent E loves to make lists . . . of things to do, to read, to watch . . . anything. She makes these notes all. the. time. My husband blames my influence. I have no idea what he's talking about :-)

Anyway, earlier she took paper and pencil and composed this:

Stuff That I Need To Do in the Morning

Read books
Give Andrew a kiss
Hug Julia
Play computer games

09 December 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday (16)

Hello and welcome to another Quick Takes Friday hosted by Jennifer at Conversion Diary. Be sure to stop by her blog and read her post, then scroll down to see what others have linked. Have a blog? Join us!

A short, random list today . . . with significantly less complaining than last week.

1. Do you ever find yourself starting a conversation with "Remember that episode of Dora when . . ." or "You know how Donald Duck is always . . ." Um, yeah. Me neither.
2. I just joined an online book discussion group, because apparently I believe that come January I will magically transform into a person who doesn't procrastinate.
3. We have free TV channels for the month of December, so we have been overdosing on television. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) We tend to do mostly DVDs around here, so seeing new programs is really quite the novelty for the Agents. And I had to explain commercials to Agent E.
4. Is it possible to have a cold for two months? Or maybe I just need to get out of this country.
5. Poll: How many outfits do you pack when you go on vacation? One per day or do you assume rewearability to save space? I have convinced myself that for our next vacation I will be able to pack winter clothes, diapers, and stuff for five people for seven days into two suitcases. My husband doubts my sanity on this one, but I am determined to pull it off.
6. One morning this week while I was having my coffee, Agent J came out to the living room and informed me, "Mommy, I just peed all over your bed."
Clean up time is so much fun
7. Agent A is a very happy baby (see adorable photo) who loves to clap . . . for strawberry smoothies, at hearing Daddy's keys jingling outside the door, when his sisters smother him in kisses. The other day he was nursing, looked up at me, unlatched, and applauded.

06 December 2011

A Quick Christmas-y Post

Sharing a few Christmas-related ramblings on my mind. I seem to recall wanting to write a similar post last year, but never getting around to it. I'll blame that whole giving birth in November thing.

Usually we keep the time leading up to the holidays pretty low key, unlike most people we know. We like to have birthday cake on Christmas Eve, but this year we will be in Disneyland, so perhaps a Mickey-shaped ice cream bar instead? 

On Decorating
Last year we put up a tree. I wanted to take it down about an hour later. Agent J was at peak two-and-a-half-ness, and I also had, oh yeah, a newborn. Every time I sat down to nurse the baby, she would grab an ornament, eat some greenery, or unravel the tree skirt. Every. freaking. time. No amount of distraction or rearranging (at one point, the bottom half of our tree was completely bare) discouraged her. A year later Agent J remains, well, Agent J. And now Agent A is mobile, too. This season our "decor" consists of a tabletop tree, some giant Santa hats thrown over the back of the couch, and a few Christmas bears strewn about the room. Catalog worthy, for sure.

Senior Agents, Christmas Eve 2010
On That @#$% Elf
I truly dislike the whole concept of the elf on the shelf. I know some folks simply use it as a fun game—where will he be in the morning?—but for the majority who use it as a Santa Spy, I just . . . ugh. Actually, the whole mindset of "be good because Santa's watching" and warnings of "getting nothing for Christmas" just makes me . . . grrr. I hate hearing parents make intimidating threats comments like that to their children. Grumble.

On Santa
We don't "do" Santa around here . . . no fat jolly man in a red suit will be coming down our chimney. (You know, if we had one.) We do love Santa as a character, though, and plan to enjoy all the Christmas cartoon specials, to color lots of pictures of flying reindeer, and to overdose on hot chocolate while watching The Polar Express. We do not, however, build up the image of Santa Claus as mysterious gift giver or behavior monitor. The Agents have also never posed for a picture with Santa. (Not that I would be against it; to us it would be just like standing in line at Disney to get a photo with Mickey. They just don't care one way or the other.)

On Secrets
Agent E knows Santa does not deliver presents around the world in one evening. She has flat-out asked: "That doesn't really happen, does it?" At five, however, I don't think she grasps that some of her friends may believe something different based on what their parents have told them. I have never asked her to "not say anything" or "keep it to ourselves" to not spoil another's surprise. That is way too much to expect of a small child. Plus, the chances of her actually spilling the beans is so limited, it's not worth worrying her over. Nor do I think it's our responsibility, anyway, but that's probably a whole other post.

On Gifts
Agent A last December
The Agents will get a few presents in the mail from their grandparents and cousins. We will probably buy the girls one gift (likely during the after-Christmas sales; last year we bought them bikes). We'll just give Agent A an empty box to play with and call it a day. 

On the Real Story
Ask the Senior Agents what Christmas is, and they will tell you it's Jesus' birthday. We haven't yet spent a lot of time discussing the birth of Jesus in our homeschooling, however. We will probably read the story from Luke in a few weeks, and maybe talk a bit about Mary and Joseph and color some pages of Wise Men and such. We have been to the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, and we talked a bit about that trip today. We'll likely discuss more about the life of Saint Nicholas as part of our upcoming lessons as well.

What does this time of year look like at your house? 

02 December 2011

7 Quick Takes Friday (15)

Hello and welcome to another Quick Takes Friday, hosted by Jennifer at Conversion Diary. Call this edition The One Where I Ramble About Our Last Vacation.

My budding archaeologists
1. Just returned from a 10-day cruise. It was okay. (Yes; I just called a 10-day vacation to three continents with four port visits "okay.") We chose this trip very last-minute, based on itinerary and price, without actually considering how much time you spend on the ship itself. (Hint: A lot.) This particular cruise line caters to experienced, adult cruisers. This does not describe us. You know how when you're out shopping or running errands with all the kids, and they're behaving pretty well, and your patience is completely even keel, and you stop to get lunch, all smug with yourself for having such a great day, and before you order your three-year-old has taken off her shoes and tossed them under the table and is practicing circus acrobatics off the back of her chair and throwing bread at the table beside you, dashing your perfect parent fantasy? And then you start wondering why you don't drink more? Imagine doing that over and over again for ten days straight. Thank goodness the Senior Agents enjoyed the kids' club area on the ship (aka, glorified babysitting and craft time with an occasional jungle gym) . . . they were there more often than I care to admit. At first I felt bad about it, but I quickly realized I could do little to keep them from being bored out of their minds. Lesson: No matter how much we travel, we still need to do our research. Also, it is possible to have a so-so vacation. I think some people assume if you have the means to travel you should just be grateful for whatever you get. However, not everything turns out like the family in the brochure claims it does. I think if we (and by we, I mean I) had lower expectations going in to the whole thing, it would have made a huge difference. Live and learn.

Momma and Agent A in Ephesus
2. Agent A, of course, stayed with us 24/7. (He was too young for the kids' club, and they didn't offer a nursery, although I don't think I would have taken him there, anyway. He's never been with a sitter in his life.) Mostly he was a pleasant traveler . . . as long as Hubby or I were holding him. He decided just before we left he'd give that whole separation anxiety thing a whirl. My boy who used to love a ride in the stroller, who would coo happily at strangers, who would be content with his sisters entertaining him while Momma could, oh, I don't know, pee . . . suddenly plastered himself to me or Dad every waking moment. Turned out to be fine though . . . none of our excursions off the ship were stroller friendly anyway, and he enjoyed all the cuddle time so much it almost made up for the fact that my arms about fell off by day three. Almost.

3. About 80% of the people who saw us with Agent A during this trip thought he was a girl. Why? I have no idea. He is a very beautiful baby (not that I am biased in any way) with nice eyes and soft, wavy hair, whom we typically dress in stereotypical blue and gray colors with sports emblems. I'm thinking it must be the hair . . . it just became long enough that the curls he inherited from Hubby's side have started to show. But seriously, when you see a baby dressed in blue sweats with a football on the jersey, do you really think "princess"? Even after we told people his name is Andrew, they would still ask: boy or girl?

4. I used more Italian on this vacation than I do living in Italy. Nothing too complex, just idle elevator chit chat and some basic pleasantries to a few folks we overheard speaking in Italian. Obviously they were northern Italians, who speak much more clearly and with less dialect influence, because I could understand them, even though after being in southern Italy for almost two years I rarely have any clue what people are saying around here.

No vacation is complete without a pigeon chase
5. We did "school" on the cruise (per Agent E's request). She even had a name for it: Cruise School With Mommy. Nothing too intense . . . we looked at maps of the countries we visited, completed related word scrambles and word searches, and even colored some turkeys, as we spent Thanksgiving on the ship. We talked a bit about the places we saw, but from the three-to-five-year-old perspective, it was all about how grubby they could get. Visit to the original Olympic stadium? Running on dirt. Exploring the ancient ruins of Ephesus? Playing in dirt (while climbing on rocks). Touring the catacombs? Rocks, dirt, and water: the trifecta.

6. Can I just say how much I appreciate a good buffet line? That pretty much saved us at every meal. We did a few "nice" dinners, but given the attention span of our party, the all-you-can-eat, do-it-yourself, unlimited wonderfulness that is cruise dining became our best friend.

7. We have just a few weeks until our next adventure. This one involves a flight (a blessedly short, direct flight) which I am praying A sleeps through. (Otherwise, I cannot imagine keeping Sir Squirmy on my lap the entire time; he doesn't have a ticket.) I think the Agents will enjoy this trip much better, especially since we have a ginormous surprise for them at the end.