Saturday, January 23, 2016

How Chess Is Transforming My Son

2nd Place Winner at the Homeschool Education Association of Virginia Conference

Kingman has been playing chess since he was 4 years old.  His father taught him the game purely for pleasure.  But when Dr. Quito Swan began teaching chess at the Sankofa Homeschool Collective in 2011, he stirred up a dormant volcano.  As KingMan's chess study continued, his passion and seriousness about the game grew.  Fast forward 4 years later and he is now a member of the Bravo Zulu Chess Club.  Thanks to the mentoring and leadership of his chess coach, Mr. Shaka Greene, KingMan is now a competitive chess player.  He has traveled to Lake Buena Vista, Florida, to attend the national championships twice.  But what is most pleasing to me are the things that are happening in the process.  

Male Mentorship

Because my boys lost their father in 2013, I am so very grateful for their male teachers.  My deep thinking son pays very close attention to what people say and especially what they do.  This is a time in his life when he is formulating ideas about manhood.  So when I ask, "how was chess?" and he starts with, "Mom, do you know what Mr. Greene said?" Well, I know it's going to be something that made him think, something that inspired him, or something that made him laugh.  This regular and consistent relationship is so crucial at this time in his life.

Goal Setting

KingMan's chess coach knows how to inspire his team to set personal goals.  When KingMan announced that he was going to fast from video games for the next 21 days while he participates in a chess challenge, I was stunned. I could have nagged or confiscated the video game controllers, which I am known to do from time to time.  But it would not have had the same impact as this self-imposed sacrifice he is making to reach his goal.  He has a goal chess rating posted on his bedroom door that he wants to achieve by June 2016.  I almost cried when I saw this display of self-affirmation.


I can't count the number of events KingMan has missed because of chess tournaments.  The social calendar of teens is one of the  most important aspects of their lives.  Yet, he is willing to sacrifice it all for the sake of a tournament.  Recently, I told him about an opportunity to travel to Philadelphia and visit several colleges with friends and eat at several famous Philadelphia eateries, including Ishkabibbiles, his father's favorite Philly Cheese steak spot.  He looked at me with a stern face and said, "Mom I can't miss this tournament."  Unbelievable! He is showing me how serious he is about reaching his goal. 


KingMan attends chess practice four days a week.  After my van was totaled in a car accident, I was not able to drive him.  So he learned how to get there on his own. He is out of the door by 3 p.m., each day for the 90 minute commute that includes two buses and 15 minute walk.  It pained me to not be able to drive him and show my support.  Yet I am so proud of  KingMan for not allowing transportation to be an excuse or an impediment to him pursuing a passion.

Teamwork and Camaraderie

One afternoon I had the pleasure of attending chess practice with KingMan. I sat outside the door planning to catch up on some reading, while waiting for practice to end.  I couldn't help but eavesdrop.  It sounded like one big happy family.  There was lots of analysis, strategy and concentration going on, but they were still having fun.  Most impressive were the "team generals" who had been given the responsibility of not only setting a good example for the rest of the team, but also maintaining order during practice.  I felt so much good energy and leadership development emanating from the room that day.  I understood why KingMan didn't want to miss practice.

Neurological Benefits

Before I did a Google search, I didn't realize the neurological impact of chess! Chess study grows dendrites, the tree-like branches in the brain that receives signals.  Playing chess develops the prefrontal cortex and helps them make better decisions.  We all know how important that skill is during the teenage years! Chess also improves concentration, reading, memory and problem-solving skills.  I wouldn't think chess would improve creative thinking, but studies say, yes that's a benefit too.  Finally, and most impressive, chess study helps develop both sides of the brain.  As a mother of a left-brain dominant learner and a right-brain dominant learner, I find this to be fascinating and useful!


This ancient game is shaping and molding KingMan.  Becoming an International Chess Grand Master, his goal, will be the cherry on top.  But all the things that will have happened along the way are what I am and will be most grateful for.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Frederick Douglas Writing Club for Young Boys

The first day of class started with a field trip to the Frederick Douglas House.

What must it be like to be taught by someone who gets it? Someone who understands your need to bang on the table, so ample time is left in the morning for a jam session on the drums before class starts.  Someone who understands your need to squirm, fidget and move around, so there are desks and chairs, but if you want to lie down on the floor, it's all good.  Someone who invites you back to class with welcome arms even though you have a very, very bad day on the first day.  Well, I can imagine it feels pretty darn good!

LionHeart enjoys a morning jam session in the studio where classes are held.

Under ordinary circumstances I would never have signed up my right-brain learner for a writing class.  But educator and artist extraordinaire Bomani Armah assured me that this was not your typical writing class. A father of twin boys, just as exuberant as mine, he promised that LionHeart would be challenged, engaged and successful.  He was absolutely right!  The Frederick Douglas Writing Club was awesome!
Class time with Baba Bomani.

I was nervous about an all day (9-4pm) writing class for my easily distracted LionHeart.  The class description sounded pretty left-brain: writing and communication, with an emphasis on the life and writing of Frederick Douglass (concentrating on abolition and the Civil War), speech writing, public speaking, autobiographical writing and journalism.  But when I learned that class would also involve activities like Hip Hop writing with rhyming trees and learning the parts of speech through Flocabulary videos ... well, I knew everything was going to be alright.

LionHeart recording and reporting at Harper's Ferry

Bomani understands that boys need to move, create and, most of all, need to be inspired!  Heck, all writers need to be inspired to write.  The first class started out with a bang and the field trips and activities kept getting better.  One field trip the boys traveled to Harper's Ferry to visit the place of John Brown's Raid.  They were tasked with being young reporters. Historians say Frederick Douglas declined Brown's invitation to join him in the raid because he thought it would be unsuccessful.

 I asked LionHeart why he photographed this collage at Harper's Ferry? He told me that he liked it because it showed John Brown as he aged from a young man to an elderly man.

For a group of boys, I'm sure a 2,000 pound canon was hard to resist.  I am told this was one of the many canons that the Confederate army pulled through the river and ravine to place their for the battle.

This view from Harper's Ferry was particularly fascinating to LionHeart because he tells me you can see Maryland, DC and Virginia from this vantage point.

Checking out an exhibit at the Newseum
Another field trip was to the Newseum,  which was a precursor to their in depth study of the parts of a newspaper.  In today's digital age, reading a real newspaper is just as rare as learning cursive handwriting.  I'm glad these young men are being exposed to how news was reported before Facebook and Instagram!

 Equally as important as the lesson was always the metro ride.  Yes, their teacher braved the city metro with a group of boys.  There's so much to learn, coming and going.  I am so grateful that LionHeart was a part of this pilot program.  The layers of learning, growing and building with each other was absolutely amazing.  This is how education should be - personal and meaningful.  Class ended with a bang, a SERIOUS bang.  Throughout the course the young men worked on their rhymes and writing.  The apex was the Frederick Douglas Writing Club Theme Song and Video.  Check it out below!
If you want to be free, if you want to be great,
Frederick Douglass said the key is you have to agitate,
So we learn to write and read and how to debate
F-D-W-C 1838!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

US Botanical Garden - An Educational Gem

Rarely does a class for my child have a therapeutic effect on me.  Yet the US Botanical Garden's Seedlings class certainly does.  It's something about being surrounded by greenery that calms my soul.  What's more amazing is Ms. Lee Coykendall. Botany may seem like a difficult subject to make accessible for children, yet she does it effortlessly, brilliantly, creatively!  We have been coming to the US Botanical Gardens' programming for 11 years.  KingMan participated in the Sprouts program until he aged out.  I was so sad about it. Yet he happily tagged along as the older sibling when LionHeart began the Seedlings program.  Ms. Lee happily allowed him to participate, even though the class was aimed at 6-9 year old.  One day he even asked how old he needed to be to be able to work at the Botanical Gardens.

LionHeart on the far left and KingMan getting a big hug from Ms. Lee
What I love most about the class is that topics are introduced while the children are actively engaged in an activity.

LionHeart and his Bestie are testing water temperatures.

In this particular class, they became water scientists and measured various water temperatures.

LionHeart recording water temperature data in the US Botanical Gardens.
The introduction of the lesson is always followed by a trek into the Botanical Gardens.  The learning opportunities are endless.

This was not related to the topic at hand, but the beauty obviously caught LionHeart's eye because he paused to snap this shot.

The Rainforest
This is where the fun began.  The lesson was engaging already, but the buckets that the children used to collect water samples launched the fun-factor into overdrive.

Over the side of the bridge the buckets were tossed, held by a string.

LionHeart would have been happy to collect water samples for hours.

LionHeart collected three samples while determining four things that affected water temperature.

And the testing began.

Getting a little help from Ms. Lee on how to read the thermometer.

One of the best parts of the class is that there is always something related to the lesson to take home.  So many conversations are sparked throughout the week as we reflect on what we've learned.

Lionheart and his Bestie taste some of the herbs they will plant at home.

Class usually ends with a trip to the Children's Garden where they happily dig, sweep and water flowers.  Over the years LionHeart has grown to love Botany and especially the US Botanical Gardens - an educational gem!  What I am most excited about is the class that will begin soon for ages to 14-16.  KingMan will be there for sure!

 This blog post is dedicated to my late husband, who would always take time out of his work day to attend class with us at the Botanical Gardens.  He loved flowers.  He would be pleased to know his sons are still taking classes.

Friday, October 2, 2015

In The Path of My Father

RaSeph, KingMan and Sia circa 2005

Today my husband would have been 51 years old.  He loved to celebrate his birthday in grand fashion.  It's no wonder I awoke at 3:30 a.m. this morning, 4 hours earlier than my usual wake up time.  This was his favorite time of the morning.  I took this as a gentle nudge from Eric to write.  This is dedicated to you on behalf of RaSeph and SiaLi Wright.  These two young people are a part of documentary film-making class at Meridian Hill Pictures.  Each semester the students choose a topic and through video they get to tell a story about a societal issue that has impacted them.  They chose the topic of losing one's father.  When my children loss their father it made their friends feel vulnerable. I'm sure Ra and Sia looked at their father differently, held him tighter, and wondered what their life would be like without him.  Their decision to explore the lost of a father touched me deeply.  In the Path of My Father is the documentary they produced, along with other students and educators.


 When they first began filming, I was thinking like an educator.  Homeschooled children have the freedom to dive deeply into their passions and I wanted to support that.  I had no idea of the journey ahead and the thoughts and feelings that would resurface.  Our family was a little more than two years into the grieving process, so digging deep wasn't always easy. 

 Getting LionHeart to talk was especially difficult.  Often his responses were one word answers.  RaSeph and Ayinde are like brothers, which I am sure played a big part in getting LionHeart to open up.  I'm not sure LionHeart realizes how deeply moving it is to have a friend who not only helps you make Minecraft videos, but also helps you heal from the loss of your father.  

I thought it would be easy for me.  I enjoyed the opportunity to honor my husband's memory and to tell our story.  But once the cameras were gone, the sadness and tears would return.  What kept me going was gratitude.  I focused on being grateful that we were creating a new memory, one that would showcase how a community truly stepped in during a time of great loss.  

 During the September 22nd premiere at the Sitar Arts Center, someone in the audience talked about how important it is to take pictures and videos because you never know how your story is going to end.  When I look at these two and think back to the day in the park those words have such profound meaning.  Throughout the documentary, my husband's voice narrates, thanks in part to video footage that he took of himself.  Always on the cutting edge, my husband was doing 'selfies' before it became popular.

In the Path of My Father is not just about loss.  It's also a celebration of community.  Their words and actions have not been empty.  The support that we received and continue to receive is a powerful testimony to me, but especially the children.  Yet, I worry about KingMan because he always been such an old soul and he keeps his feelings hidden.  He's mature beyond his years, but he was inseparable from his father and now that he is gone I know is must be scary for him.  However, judging from that proud mama smile in the photo above, the faith is not gone.  My husband's famous words in the midst of hard times and strife were, "we gonna be alright!"

 I have this warrior Mama Ray Wright (and Baba too!) to thank for giving birth to and raising compassionate, thoughtful and creative artists who want to make a difference in their world.

A second showing of In the Path of My Father will take place on Tuesday, October 13 at 7:00 pm at the Reel Independent Film Extravaganza Angelika Pop Up Union Market.  For details click here.

This moment is time is something our family will treasure for a lifetime.  Kudos to the Sitar family, Merdian Hill film students, and a special shout out to RaSeph and SiaLi, also known as Sia Sunshine on her YouTube channel.  

To see a trailer of In the Path of My Father, click here.

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.