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 later.  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. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Connected In Ways We Never Dreamed Would Happen

I met Mama T about 15 years ago.  I had just joined Mocha Moms.  KingMan was 8-months old and Mama T was the mother of three boys.  Our worlds intertwined over the years and we became like sisters, complete with fall-outs and make-ups.  KingMan (my oldest son) and The Prince (Mama T's youngest son) became like brothers.  Ironically, they were both born on the same special day, February 3rd.

KingMan and The Prince celebrating their 15th and 18th birthday together - what a journey!

We connected deeply as busy bee mamas, heading up organizations, volunteering for events and always on the go.  We planned our children's birthdays together and even vacationed together.  We joked about how different our husbands were - mine was type A and her husband took his own sweet time for everything.  When my husband suffered a stroke in 2008, Mama T's husband became one of his health care aids.  Now both of them had to learn something about moving fast and moving slow.  Our families became even closer.  I saw her husband daily as he came to our home to assist my husband.  Vacationing together was now a necessity so that my husband would be able to enjoy time with his family and have a health care aid available.  We were doing our best to make it work.  Then in 2013 tragedy struck.  My husband passed away suddenly right before Christmas.  It was a shock to us all.  We had plans to play Monopoly Millionaire on the day we lost him.  It felt like life interrupted.  Fast forward one year later and the same thing happened to my dear friend.  In the midst of planning for her husband's birthday dinner she gets a call that he has collapsed and is unresponsive.  This is a tough one for me, but I've been there, so I am walking with Mama T on this journey.  Today here we are with all these connections--homeschooling widow is not a connection we wanted, for sure. In the same way the homeschooling community rallied around me, they rallied around Mama T.  We both surely would have fallen a part were it not for community.  Now we talk about feeling "uncovered," and "naked" without the energy of our spouses.  But we must go on.  It is my prayer that we will continue to find strength in each other and that our sons will be a support to one another.  We must remember, we are not alone.

Baba ... Rest in Peace

Monday, November 10, 2014

Read Africa - Africana Book Awards

LionHeart and I had the distinct honor of receiving awards during the annual Africana Book Awards. My award was for helping to spread the word in the homeschool community about the Read Africa challenge, and LionHeart's for his participation. Brenda Randolph founded Africa Access in 1989 to give parents, schools and public libraries access to more literature written by and about African people.  The Africa Access Review, the Read Africa Book Club and Children’s Africana Book Awards (CABA) are all a part of this effort.  

It gave me great pleasure to introduce LionHeart to A.G. Ford, the illustrator for the book Desmond and the Very Mean Word, inspired by the life and work of Desmond Tutu.  This book was one of the four honored.

After crafts, refreshments and face-painting, we made our way to the amazing bookstore in the African Art Museum to make our purchases to support these authors.

 It was also inspiring that two of those honored were men.  LionHeart wanted to meet Desmond Tutu, but meeting Agbotadua Togbi Kumassah was just as much of an honor.  He is the co-author of  Once Upon A Time In GhanaWe'll be reading these traditional stories from Ghana during our evening story hour.

I have been reading books by and about African people to my children for more than 13 years.  From the ages of 0-5, I only read books that featured Africans or animal characters to KingMan because I knew that he would be inundated with images that did not look like him outside of our home.  Eventually, our reading included other people of color.  I continued in that tradition with LionHeart.  We read everything now, but being selective in the beginning, I believe is important to the development of healthy self-image and self-esteem.

Africa Is My Home was another winner this year and a must add to our library.  It tells the story of the Amistad uprising through the voice of  Magulu, a young girl from Sierra Leone. 

Bundle of Secrets: Savita Returns Home written by Mubina Kirmani will also be a part of our collection.  The story of Savita and Njeri and the East Indian-Kenyan history is new to me.


Africa Access, in collaboration with the Outreach Council of the African Studies Association, has three major objectives: (1) to encourage the publication of children’s and young adult books that contribute to a better understanding of African societies and issues, (2) to recognize literary excellence, and (3) to acknowledge the research achievements of outstanding authors and illustrators. The first CABA was presented in 1992. Today over seventy-four titles have been recognized and more than 100 authors and illustrators are members of the Winners Circle. 

I hope to see more families support Africa Access in the future.  Our stories must be preserved and they must be told!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Power of Learning Music

Young LionHeart at a Levine School of Music Suzuki Violin Recital.

Each fall before we embark upon another year of homeschooling, I do a bit of purging.  Since LionHeart is switching from Suzuki violin to piano this year, I thought maybe it was time to get rid of his Suzuki violin notebook.  For some reason, I was not able to throw it out.  Instead, I started flipping pages, reminiscing about my young violin player.  In the process, I stumbled upon some powerful words of wisdom from Dr. Shin'ichi Suzuki, founder of the Suzuki Method, regarding the Power of Learning Music:

1.  Dr. Suzuki says that "one on one education is a very unique and powerful way to learn."  As a homeschool parent, I know that to be true.  He goes on to say that the learning is customized for the student, the relationship between the teacher and student is unique and this relationship creates another level of personal accountability.  I agree.  Male children need multiple levels of accountability as they grow into young men.  Finally, he says that the "lessons are both intense and personal."  When my boys finish African drumming instruction for an hour, they are hot, tired and hyped! I would definitely call that "intense" instruction.

KingMan at a Levine School of Music Recital.

2.  Dr. Suzuki says that music instruction develops the "ability to listen."  We all know how our children can pretend to be hard of hearing when we are asking them to do something they don't want to do.  But music instruction teaches listening on two levels according to Dr. Suzuki: a) listening to instructions and b) listening to oneself.  He goes on to say that the deep ability to listen opens up "expanded opportunities for gathering information and knowledge" and the ability to "tune into oneself."  This is especially important when children reach the teen years.  Years of music study help children grow to really be able to "hear" better from parents, teachers and coaches.

Young LionHeart imitating his brother at church.

3Dr. Suzuki says we are born with "the ability to observe and imitate." We all know that children imitate what they see, so what they see should be worthy of imitation a friend once told me. A student taught by a master is able to use those imitation skills to create other successful experiences.  Dr. Suzuki goes on to say that "when you imitate something awesome you get to enter inside of it, see up close the secrets of what it is made of.  This is the validity of imitation." I saw that last night as my children's drum instructor demonstrated a rhythm they were about to learn.  LionHeart's eyes lit up as he observed the mastery. I could see the anticipation in his eyes saying, "when will I master that rhythm!"

4.  The Ability to Memorize.  Because Suzuki students are taught by ear first, Dr. Suzuki says they develop a quick "visual and aural memory."  Well, African drumming students learn complex rhythms from memory as well.  This training of the brain from an early age transfers into every area of a child's learning.

5.  The Ability to Concentrate.  Sitting still for long periods of time can be difficult for LionHeart.  But not when it comes to music study.  In his African drumming class the group is taught together.  He has to sit patiently and quietly listen to the instruction of the other drummers.  In the process, he develops concentration and he learns the rhythms of the other instruments from observing.  Dr. Suzuki says that "the beauty of music is that it simultaneously stimulates so many different parts of the brain."  The intense concentration and focus displayed during a child's musical performance is similar to what athletes refer to as "the zone," according to Dr. Suzuki.

6.  The Ability to Perform.  My children did not acquire this quality from their mama who is painfully shy.  Dad, on the other hand, did not have a shy bone in his body.  But I know this inherent quality was further developed through the study of music.  Dr. Suzuki says, "the ability to perform is really the ability to share what you love."  Naturally, these presentation skills carry over into areas where public speaking is required.

7.  Discipline! This quality is so very important for children, especially for males.  Discipline, or the lack thereof, can mean the difference between success and failure in any area. According to Dr. Suzuki, "nothing helps a child develop the ability to do something on a regular basis, like doing something on a regular basis."

8.  The ability to preserve.  The list of reasons why this quality in a young man is so important -- well there is not enough space to even list.  But I'll name a few.  The obvious places perseverance helps a child succeed are in education, sports, relationships - and later in life - work, starting a business, marriage and rearing their own children.  According to Dr. Suzuki, "children really want to conquer difficult situations and please their parents."  We can help them by instilling the skills necessary to weather frustrating times with "good humor and affection."

I guess this is the reason I was not ready to throw out LionHeart's Suzuki notebook from 2009.  There were still some gems inside waiting to be found.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Our Geography Corner

What Are Continent Boxes?

Our Montessori-inspired Geography shelf is all set up.  It's amazing how much learning can be packed into such a small area.  To explore geography, we are using Montessori continent boxes and the Little Passports program.  Who doesn't love to open a little box? I know LionHeart does and it's packed with so many activities.  Continent boxes allow you to make geography a hands-on learning experience.  You can include maps, postcards, photographs - anything that will spark learning.  Once the learning is sparked, we visit the library for books, find videos on Netflix, listen to music or make food from the continent.  You can even do hands on projects to explore the physical features of geography.  We are definitely going to incorporate this graham cracker/yogurt idea for studying landforms.  Click here for details.  I dedicated an entire shelf to Africa.  I found the basket at a thrift store and purchased the miniature drum from a local art gallery that is going out of business for 50% off.  The continent boxes give us a reason to collect objects of meaning from around the world.

What Goes Inside of a Continent Box?

Recently, while attending the annual Panafest, I purchased a miniature Buddha statute.  I can see this object sparking so much conversation about religion and ultimately geography.

 I picked up this item from an art gallery closeout.  This is a rendering of the Kariang of Northern Thailand.  Can you see where we can go with this? After identifying Thailand on the map, here's something LionHeart can hold in his hand as we explore the music, food and culture of the Kariang, also called Nyang, people of Northern Thailand.  It will also be placed in our Asia box.  Click here for ideas on how to fill your continent boxes with learning. 

Inside of our Africa continent box is a 3-part nomenclature card that has as image of the continent and the spelling of the name.  Manipulating these objects helps with the child's ability to identify the continent and correctly spell the name of the continent. Also, inside of the Africa box is a miniature mask from Ghana and a hand-made card from Swaziland.  I also plan to add these maps from Montessori Print Shop.  When we study the continent, we'll visit the places where the objects originate from first because a connection has already been made.

Setting Up Your Continent Boxes 

 A good friend and fellow Montessori trained homeschool mom gave me this idea for the Continent Boxes. I purchased the containers came from Family Dollar for $2 each.  Those beautiful labels are courtesy of the Dollar Tree.  They're actually window clings that I glued onto the container with clear Elmer's glue.  Continent boxes can be created in a multitude of ways.  You can use baskets, folders, or anything that allows you to store items from to the continent you plan to study.  Click here at Living Montessori Now for more continent study ideas.