Friday, September 4, 2015

Using Workboxes to Organize Your Curriculum

I discovered workboxes many years ago.  I even belonged to the Workbox Yahoo group! Initially, I used them in the exact way the creator indicated.  But after a while it didn't fit our family. The concept was brilliant, especially for a visual, right brain child.  To see the bins disappear does create a sense of accomplishment as one reaches the goal of completing all assignments for the day.  We decided that our workboxes would work best as a tool to keep us organized.  In this video, I show how we use them.  We have many new families in our homeschool group this year and in addition to choosing curriculum, figuring out how to keep it all organized without losing one's sanity can be a daunting task.  I hope this video helps.  Another one of the many benefits of workboxes is that it allows you to store anything related to the lesson at hand in one place, whether it's supplies, a related library book or an art project. Workboxes also make it easy for a child to have some autonomy in choosing work because he knows exactly where it's kept.  For my right brain learner, who likes to delay the start of the day as much as possible, announcing "you pick," is a way to jump start our day.   Workboxes - I couldn't homeschool without them!

Confessions of a Homeschooler blog also has a great video tutorial of how to use workboxes.  You can see it here.

Here is a great interview with Sue Patrick, the creator of the Workbox concept.  Click here.

Happy Homeschool organizing!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

My Homemade "Stay-Cation" Recharge Mom Retreat

A cosmic alignment is what I called it.  Both of my children are at away camps at the same time.  I was way too exhausted to plan a vacation for myself after getting both boys off.  However, to ensure that I didn't squander this sacred time,  I put together a "Stay-Cation" spa itinerary.  I plan to use the next 6 child-free days wisely. On day one my plan was to treat myself to my favorite muffin from Whole Foods (the Morning Glory) once I kissed my baby goodbye.  The only problem was I read the wrong page of the parent manual.  The bus departed at 7am, not 8:30 a.m. We missed the bus (imagine me screaming at 6:55 a.m.!)  No Morning Glory muffin for me.  There was only one solution -- pack up and make the two hour trek south to meet up with the camp bus.  Talk about a monkey wrench! Despite the 3.5 hour drive back from Madison, Va., and the horrendous traffic, I was still positive the day could be salvaged.

Day 1 - Yoga

 Once I was off from work, I searched Yoga District to find the perfect class.  Bingo! A candlelight, late-night restorative yoga class.  The day was not lost.  Right after reserving my spot, the phone rang.  It was my KingMan, my oldest, who is studying in Guatemala for 4 weeks. "Guess what mom, I lost my wallet."  I looked around to see if maybe John Quinones from the television show What Would You Do? was filming.  This couldn't be real. I calmly asked if all of his money and his passport was in the missing wallet.  Thankfully, it was not.  Okay, shake it off, I said to myself.  I was determined to end the first day of my Homemade Stay-Cation Recharge Mom Retreat on a high note.

This is the smile of success.  I made it! The class was absolutely divine.  I have never taken a restorative yoga class before.  Each deeply relaxing pose is held for at least 8-10 minutes.  I fell asleep 3 times, thankfully I didn't snore. 

Day 2 - Henna Happy Hour

I don't know what it is about Henna that is so much fun.  It just makes me feel feminine and connected to North Africa.  I can't wait to hear all the questions my students will ask.  I'm already preparing a lesson plan.  That's me on the right.

Day 3 - Candlelight Prana Flow Yoga

I love yoga, but rarely get an opportunity to take classes.  Thanks to free and low-cost classes offered through organizations like Yoga District, I had so much to choose from.  The Candlelight Prana Flow Yoga was one of my favorites.  The class description said the practice is "flowing, features cyclical movement, and can feel very fluid and almost dance-like at times."  It sure did.  At the end of class, the instructor said we flowed so well together that it seemed like we had practiced.  I was floating by the end of class.

Day 4 - Aromatherapy Facial

A facial is one of those things that is rarely in the budget.  Thankfully, the Aveda Institute opens it's school to the public so students get to "practice" on real people at a budget-friendly rate.  So I indulged.  Terra Brown, a student who graduates in September, was my esthetician (skin care therapist).  My facial began with a foot scrub.  Really!? I couldn't believe this was included.

I couldn't believe my glow!  That's what a deep cleanse, two toners, two masks, a foot massage and a hand massage will do for you.  This was an AMAZING experience.  Ms. Brown said she was nervous.  I couldn't tell. 

Day 5 - Spa World

Feeling so relaxed, I wanted to shirk off all responsibilities, except for my trip to Spa World.  In came a "reminder" text from Guatemala.  KingMan wanted to know if I was still going to drum class to record the rehearsals.  He is practicing while away to prepare for a huge concert when he returns.  Sigh. I protested.  But he persisted.  "Mom, you promised to record every rehearsal." This would be a slight deviation from my spa itinerary.  Then I recalled that I had sent him messages earlier reminding him of his "promise" to blog about his experiences in Guatemala as a part of his homeschool assignments.  Looks like I gotta "walk the talk."  So off I go to record 3 hours of rehearsals before my trek to Spa World.

The cumulative effect of self-care is amazing.  I can literally feel the stress melting away.  The hot water jets in the bade pool and the Korean salt-scrub prepare the body for the poultice rooms.  There are 8 of them! The Red Clay Room, made from environmentally friendly Korean red clay, emanates 184 degrees of heat that blasts toxins out of the system.  Dripping with sweat, I ventured into the  Blue Onyx and Salt Room.  After the Red Clay Room, temperatures of 120-130 degrees were a piece of cake.  I enjoyed the Red Clay Ball Room the best because I had to lie down on a bed of hot red clay balls and sweat.  It was beautiful, spiritual even! I want to bring my children, but not before we do a lesson first. A homeschool mama can turn anything into a unit study!  A bi-monthly trip to Spa World should be factored into the homeschool budget. 

Day 6 - Yoga with Krishna Kur

The final day of my recharge could not have ended on a higher vibration.  I had the honor of participating in a yoga practice with Krishna Kur, an African-American Kundalini yoga teacher, who has been practicing for more than 40 years.  It was the perfect culmination to what had been a week of reflection and preparation for homeschooling during some very troubling times.  I learned how quickly the body and mind is renewed through consistent wellness practices.  I also learned that as women, especially homeschooling mothers, that if we don't take the time to bond with each other outside of our homeschool experiences, we run the risk of having nothing in common once the children are grown and gone.  I am especially grateful to the homeschool mamas who took time out to join me.  I learned so much from you all.  It was wonderful to just be women together.  By day 7, I was ready for the return of my precious one.

Welcome Home LionHeart

I am very grateful to Camp Dogwood for providing such a wonderful and positive experience for my son.  A mother can truly relax when she is confident her children are safe and happy.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Do You Know the Laws of the State Where Your Child Attends College?

Many parents are busy with all of the excitement involved in sending a child off to college.  There's shopping to be done for the dorm, financial aid to finalize and the list goes on.  But what about speaking with an attorney about the laws in the state? How many parents send their children off to college without having any knowledge of the laws of that state?  I'm sure that's what happened to the parents of Ariel Delegol, a junior at Clark Atlanta University, who was arrested in Georgia for driving with a Michigan driver's licenses, which she learned is the equivalent of not having a driver's license at all.

Apparently, Michigan is one of six states that does not participate in the Non-Resident Violator Compact, a United States interstate compact used by 44 states and Washington, D.C. to process traffic citations across state borders.  Motorists cited for violations in a state that is not a member of the NRVC must post bail before being allowed to proceed.  Who knew!? Cops have discretion about how strongly to enforce this.   This particular officer chose to take a young female student into custody, fingerprint her and give her the experience of being photographed for a mug shot!  Imagine how frightening this must have been for her, and image the fury of the parents!  When KingMan and I begin his college search, the laws of the state will definitely come into play.  Though his father was a "Rattler," or Florida A & M University alum for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, because of the "Stand Your Ground Laws" and the arbitrary and racist manner in which it is enforced, I'm very hesistant about him attending a college in the state of Florida.  During the writing of this blog post, I did a quick search for a link and discovered that almost half of the states in the US have Stand Your Ground Laws.  Click here to find out which ones.  This means that a person does not have to retreat or flee a situation deemed dangerous.  Instead, one can just whip out a gun and use deadly force, like the white man who shot and killed an African-American teen in Jacksonville, Florida, because his music was too loud. “I hate that thug music,“ he is reported to have said about the loud Hip Hop music that was playing.  This kind of senseless violence can happen anywhere, but in Stand Your Ground states, if you can prove you felt your life was in danger, these actions are protected by law.   The bottom line, educating the family about the law of the state where your child will attend college must be a part of college planning.  Sadly, after reviewing with your child what to do if stopped by the police, parents may also want to upload the Mobile Justice App to the Smartphone of the future college student.  The App was created by the ACLU of California affiliate to help citizens record and report police incidents and send them directly to the ACLU’s office.  Now, all your child needs is a team of prayer warriors and he or she should be good to go.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Lesson in Gratefulness

There are some days when I don't feel like lessons either.  It's especially difficult to get back into the homeschool groove after a long morning of errands and doctor's appointments.  But that doesn't mean I want the day to be a complete educational bust.  These are the days when I utilize Netflix.  Today, our lesson was about the importance of being grateful.  Neither of my sons have ever attended a traditional school. KingMan, "the teen," is rarely up before 10 a.m., and my right-brain learner is indulged to keep his learning interesting and engaging.  Heck, they can do lessons in their pajamas if they want to! These are not necessarily luxuries of a public school education.  Neither have ever experienced burning the midnight oil to prepare for a test.  Because I teach to mastery, testing isn't the core of our learning.  There is plenty of time for hot breakfast and a hot lunch.  There's art, music and if LionHeart wants to take a spin on his bike at 1:30 in the afternoon, he can.  Yet, sometimes they can take it all for granted.  So today I shared with them a documentary I stumbled upon on Netflix that brought me to tears the first time I watched it.  Heroes are what the filmmaker calls the children who are the subject of the documentary.  Heroes indeed! I asked my children how long it takes for them to get to school? When they stared at me blankly, I walked into their bedroom and began the journey.  It took me less than 6 seconds! I wondered allowed if they would appreciate school more if they had to walk for 4 hours one way! Intrigued, they sat entranced as I cued up the Smart TV and we began our social studies lesson on gratitude through the documentary On The Way To School.  In addition to gratitude, I hope my children will be inspired by the strength, courage and determination of the children in the film.  Through it all, they had joy!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Best Hikes With Kids - Washington, DC, The Beltway & Beyond

I've always dreamed of spending my mornings like a homeschool family I read about in Mothering magazine many years ago.  They started each day with a 2 hour hike at 7:00 a.m.  The fresh air and movement made the rest of their homeschool day a breeze.  It sounded amazing, but the thought of trying to figure out the logistics of a morning hike ensured that my dream never really got off the ground.  That all changed when I had the opportunity to review a copy of Best Hikes with Kids:  Washington, DC, The Beltway and Beyond.  Now there was no excuse.  It was all laid out for me in a well organized guide, complete with a detailed description of the trail, contact information and tips on how to make it a success.  I could make my hiking dreams come true, starting with Fort Dupont park, right around the corner from my home.  I have driven past this park a million times but never thought of it as a place to hike. Yet it was convenient and accessible. According to Best Hikes, Fort Dupont was one of 68 forts built by the Union Army around Washington, D.C., to defend it against the Confederate Army during the Civil War.  History hiking - I love it!

My children and I decided to venture out on the Turkey Trot trail near our home, which we learned is a 1.25 mile loop. Thanks to the guide, we knew ahead of time exactly where the trail would take us and what we would encounter.  This gave the children something to do while we walked and talked.  Now that the weather is warming up, we will do a lot more hiking because of the all the details available in the Best Hikes With Kids guide.  All of my questions have been answered ahead of time.

When I think of fabulous outdoor adventures, I didn't necessarily think of the DC region.  The Best Hikes guide is filled with geography lessons and has opened my eyes to the low-cost hikes available to my family, from my own backyard to "spelunking in the limestone caves of the Blue Ridge." Even more exciting is that most of the hikes listed in the guide lead to water, rock formations, historical places, nature centers, or parks with activities!

Quick Guide

This section of Best Hikes With Kids organizes hikes according to region: Maryland, DC or Virginia.  Each trail also has a difficulty level, accessibility characteristics and a short description.

History and Geography Lessons

For busy homeschoolers packing up and leaving the house can seem like a distraction because there is so much more work to be done at home.  But the Best Hikes With Kids guide provides so much information about the geography of the Mid-Atlantic Region that it is easy to build a lesson around hiking.  Hiking along the "fall line" could be a whole unit study.  I certainly had no idea there was a fall line in this area.  Combining physical activity with academics is a great way to keep young people engaged and reconnect as a family.  I can't wait to get my "one-word answer" teen on the trail.  This will be a great opportunity to chat.

Getting Started

The Best Hikes With Kids guide offers a wealth of information for the beginning to the experienced hiker.  No question is left unanswered, from what to bring on the hike to how to choose the right trail.  Tips include how to encourage children to want to hike, making sure your hike with little ones is a success, and much more! 

Hike Information

The fun of hiking has been made more accessible through the Best Hikes With Kids guide. The informative key includes information about the difficulty of the trail,  length, hiking time, highest point and accessibility.  I used to flip through my local catalog from Parks and Recreation.  I would tear out a page and make plans to do a do a hike and it never materialized.  The Best Hikes With Kids guide makes it so easy to choose a hike and make it happen.  Even my teen can use it to find a hike to appeal to him.  Now our goal is to hike at least one time per week.  The Best Hikes with Kids Washington, DC, the Beltway and Beyond is a must have resource for families wanting to spend more time outdoors with their families.  For more information, visit the website Hiking Along, an organization founded by author Jennifer Chambers that encourages families to get outdoors.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Right Side of Normal

When LionHeart wasn't reading at age 5, I was concerned.  When he wasn't reading at the same level as his big brother at age 6, I was more concerned.  By age 7, I was in a state of panic!  There were doctor's appointments and testing.  I rejected the terms dyslexic and learning disabled that are slapped on so many African American boys.  Then I stumbled upon a book that set me free.  The book's title is The Right Side of Normal by Cindy Gaddis. I read the characteristics of the Right Brain Learner and I instantly saw an image of my LionHeart. These words embody the essence of him: imagination, picture based (3-dimensional), global, whole, association, intuitive (heart), resistant, internal perfectionism, process and space. As I continued to read, I discovered that Right Brain Learners typically begin reading between the ages of 8-10.  The discovery brought tears to my eyes.

After LionHeart's recent showcase performance with Tam Tam Mandingue and Farafina Kan, I realized I had not fully respected that LionHeart had been learning deeply all along.  I elevated traditional learning (sitting down with curriculum) above experiential learning (cooking, physical movement, technology, art, music), and downplayed the latter.  I had an epiphany right after his drum teacher put his hands on LionHeart's head and told him that he had four responsibilities for the upcoming performance.  A the age of 8, LionHeart was charged with not only remembering complex African rhythms (no music to read -- it's coming from the heart and spirit), but also which song went with which ensemble (he's playing with three), which song to play for the dancers, and when to solo.  Obviously, there's no learning disability; it's just that music speaks to the way he learns.  In the words of Dr. Umar Johnson, a noted African-American child psychologist, a learning disability is the opinion of the evaluator, not a scientific fact!

When I began to reflect upon all of LionHeart's activities where he experienced the most success and delight, it became crystal clear that he was already learning in a way that he could understand.  He gets it and he feels accomplished. In his study of Capoeira, he is learning Portuguese and the complex movements of the Afro-Brazilian martial art.  He's also learning to play a third instrument: the Berimbau!  The more I read about the Right Brain Learner and how different his timetable is from a Left Brain learner, the more I began to relax and trust that as long as he is learning, everything else will fall into place.

Playing a few bars from a Stevie Wonder tune his brother taught him.

In his study of piano he is learning the language of music - no small feat.  He loves to create, he loves costumes and loves to learn through technology and games like Minecraft.  In fact, we are taking a class with Minecraft Homeschool right now.  Why, why, why have I been discounting all of this as "extra" instead of making it his main work? Well, I'm a product of the traditional educational system that puts value on only one kind of education - organized, sequential, book-based information, which is the gift of the left brain learner, according to Gaddis.  In a school setting it makes all other children look disabled if they don't learn in the same way.  Why would I continue to speak Spanish to someone who obviously speaks Swahili? If I teach him in a way he can understand, he will learn.  He will thrive. Sadly, many children never get the opportunity to be taught in the way that they learn and end up feeling angry, worthless, depressed, or worse, just give up and live down to the low expectations.

My Right Brain Fashion lover.

Understanding and teaching to what Gaddis describes as the universal gifts of the Right Brain Learner opens up his world of learning.  Right Brain Learners are characterized as being highly imaginative and  possess the ability to think in pictures.  Gaddis lists some of their creative outlets as computers/video games, art/photography, puzzles/mazes, fashion/sewing, building/electronics, theater/showmanship, math/numbers, music/dance, and cooking/gardening.  Uh, can you say LIONHEART! This description couldn't be any more exact! I can certainly build his learning around these areas.  Gaddis says in her book that "by extensively engaging in preferred creative outlets up to the 8 to 10 year time frame, the creative child develops the traits and strengths necessary to navigate the left-brain tasks they'll encounter at the next stage."  Makes perfect sense to me!

Lion Heart loves to work in costume.

As a Left Brain Learner with right brain tendencies, I crave order and sequence.  Teaching out of order pains me.  But I had to learn to adjust.  According to Gaddis, the Right Brain Learner is a global, big picture learner.  They want to know the whole before the details will ever matter.  I was perplexed that LionHeart understood the concept of multiplication and division, but struggled with basic math facts until  I read that I should allow him to experiment with Algebra and Geometry, which will motivate him to learn math facts – the details.  Recently, I took an online class called Natural Math where these concepts were explored.  Experiencing multiplication through fractals was a delight-filled experience for LionHeart. I was able to present it in a way that he understood.

I cringe when I think about the kind of learning I would have continued to push on LionHeart had I never discovered this book.  Gaddis describes schools and many curriculums as using a scope and sequence that favors the gifts of the left brain dominant person - “product-driven, sequential learning, that is word and symbol focused.”  The Right Brain Learner is process driven, wants to know the why, wants to experiment and discover.  Creativity and exploration drives the learning of  Right Brain Learners whom Gaddis describes as “creative children that love to learn, but hate to be taught.”  John Holt says something similar in his book How Children Learn.

LionHeart loves Hip Hop, especially Break Dance.

Most schools will label (ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, learning disabled, dysgraphia, dyscalculia) or attempt to "fix" or "remediate" a Right Brain Learner because he struggles when taught in ways that are considered the norm.  Gaddis goes on to say that "labels were created to explain the difference between your child's intelligence and his inability to perform in the classroom."  As parents, we are not bound by that faulty reasoning.  We can learn about and understand the natural learning path for our Right Brain Learners.  It doesn't mean our children won't learn the skills needed to attend college or be successful in life.  It means, as my grandmother used to say, "there is more than one way to skin a cat."  Teaching to the strengths of the Right Brain Learner can be easily accomplished if you homeschool.  But, what if your child attends a traditional school?  The Right Side of Normal has 495 pages of perspective-shifting information and resources that parents will find useful in helping to facilitate strength-based learning that celebrate the unique gifts and talents of Right Brain Learners.

LionHeart loves to make art, especially drawing and painting.
When I stumbled upon the website, I knew I had to review this book for my blog.  I wanted other parents to be liberated from thinking something was wrong with their children if they were struggling with what I call "paper-based learning" - the usual textbooks and curriculum.  Although I was given a digital copy to review, I'm old school - I need paper.  So I'm ordering a copy that I am sure will become my highlighted, sticky-note tabbed reference for ways to support my Right Brain Learner as I continue on the journey.

If you click on this link, you can read a 28 page excerpt.