Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Want a Summer Internship? Trying Buying One at Auction...

A friend of mine who works at a Wall Street investment bank refers to some of his well-connected colleagues as "being on the friends and family plan". While they are minimally competent for their positions, he feels they were primarily hired because of whom they know rather than what they can do. While this type of "good old boys' network" is nothing new, I was shocked when I stumbled across a 2006 Wall Street Journal article about how a number of prestigious firms are now donating summer internship slots to be auctioned off at pricey prep schools.

In the competitive world of summer internships, a new route to plum spots is emerging: buying them at auctions, often at elite private schools. This spring, internships at Morgan Stanley, NBC, Miramax, WebMD, Electronic Arts and a host of other companies have been put out to bid at auctions across the country. Bids often reach into the $2,000 to $5,000 range. Some internships are unpaid; in other cases the winners' kids receive a salary....The auctioning of internships reflects the convergence of two trends: ever-expanding fund-raising efforts at private schools, and parents' obsession with getting their kids into the right schools and eventually the right jobs. In some cases, it also stems from competition among parents to donate the most attention-grabbing auction items.
This practice is wrong on so many levels that I don't even know where to begin.

100th Carnival of Homeschooling is Up!

Summer over at "Mom is Teaching" is hosting the 100th edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling. Happy reading!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Let us give thanks to the Lord for all the blessings in our lives!

O Gracious God, we give you thanks for your overflowing generosity to us. Thank you for the blessings of the food we eat and especially for this feast today. Thank you for our home and family and friends, especially for the presence of those gathered here. Thank you for our health, our work and our play. Please send help to those who are hungry, alone, sick and suffering war and violence. Open our hearts to your love. We ask your blessing through Christ your son. Amen.

by Mary Cronk Farrell from Celebrating Faith: Year-round Activities for Catholic Families.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Renters Beware!

There's an article in today's New York Times that's anxiety-provoking for those of us who rent a house or condo. It's entitled "As Owners Feel Mortgage Pain, So Do Renters" and it discusses how the current mortgage foreclosure crisis is hurting renters in many areas. Nationwide, 1 in 8 homes foreclosed upon are renter-occupied, and here in California, the number is nearly 1 in 4. Banks typically evict the tenants upon foreclosure so that they can quickly sell the house at auction. California state law provides a 30-day notice to tenants, but in other places it can be as short as 72 hours! :-0

Can you imagine what these poor families must be going through? Here they are, paying their rent in a timely fashion, completely unaware that their landlord/lady has not been paying his/her mortgage on the place. Then boom, they get hit with a notice to leave in a mere 3 days.

The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill that would require landlords to provide their tenants a 90 day notice prior to foreclosures. Then, the new owners (typically the bank) would have to continue existing leases for 6 months. Tenants without leases would have 90 days to leave. The Senate is considering a similar bill introduced by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT). The banking industry opposes these bills, and the White House has released a statement critical of them.

I'm unfamiliar with all the details of these bills so I can't say whether or not I'm in favor of them as currently written. But I definitely feel that tenants deserve greater protection than current laws provide them!

The tenants are innocent victims of foreclosure since they played no role in the mortgages in question. The banks may have been stupid in approving loans that never should've been made and the landlords may have been stupid in obtaining mortgages they couldn't afford. The tenants on the other hand did nothing wrong. Our legal system should give them a greater amount of time before they get kicked out onto the street as the result of a mistake that other parties made :-(

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Lies, D*** Lies, and Statistics

My college statistics professor loved the quote generally attributed to Mark Twain that there are 3 kinds of lies: "lies, d*** lies, and statistics." He had us do a very interesting exercise in opinion poll manipulation where we learned how we could dramatically influence the results simply by changing the way we phrased the poll question. It's an exercise I'm definitely going to have my kids do when they get a bit older so that learn to look at the results of opinion polls with a more critical eye.

I was reminded of this today when I read an opinion piece from The American Spectator entitled "No Parent Left Behind." The author is trying to make the argument that American parents are not concerned enough with academic rigor in their children's education. I tend to agree with him that this is a big problem in today's society. However, one paragraph of his absolutely made me see red:

Academics are not necessarily the main concern even within the homeschooling movement, one of the few areas of school reform that's arguably been a success. Despite breathless stories about homeschooled children winning the National Spelling Bee, just 16.5 percent of parents surveyed by the Education Department cited academic dissatisfaction as a reason for keeping their kids out of traditional schools. Most parents home-school out of concerns about school environment and to provide religious instruction.

Mr. Biddle does not provide a reference to where he got this figure, but I suspect it's from the 2003 report of the National Center for Education Statistics. The NCES study asked parents what was their most important reason for homeschooling. 31.5% said concern about the environment of the school, 29.8% said to provide religious or moral instruction, and 16.5% said dissatisfaction with the academic instruction at other schools. However, when the researchers asked whether or not a particular reason was applicable to their situation, nearly 70% stated that academics was a factor in their decision to homeschool.

Most home educators I know have multiple reasons for homeschooling. I'd be hard pressed to answer which is the most important factor for me. Academics is certainly a big concern, but so are religion, values (related to but not exactly the same as religion), family togetherness, finances, not wanting to deal with the whole insanity of private school admissions, etc.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hey, Thanks "Thursday Thirteen"!

Confession time: I didn't even realize that I'd been featured as the newbie TT'er this week until someone mentioned it in the comments. I must've scrolled right past it obliviously...

The Perils of Purchasing Curricula Sight Unseen

DD just finished the first half of First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise this morning. At the rate she's been flying through the material, she'll be done with the second half sometime in January or February. I looked at the samples from the follow-up book but it struck me as having too much repetition from the first book & not enough new material. Also, it's secular and I would really prefer a program that incorporates our Catholic faith.

Ever since I first started looking in to homeschooling materials, I'd heard raves about the 1961 edition of the Voyages in English program originally from Loyola Press and now reprinted by Lepanto. I was unable to find any samples online but I knew it was recommended by Laura Barquist in Designing Your Own Catholic Classical Curriculum; it is used by Kolbe, Our Lady of Victory, Seton, & Our Lady of the Rosary; and also Susan Wise Bauer gave it a favorable review in her Well-Trained Mind newsletter.

I decided to try VIE 3 after DD finishes FLL. The package I ordered arrived the other day, and upon reviewing it, I realized it wouldn't work for DD. Just like the FLL 3 book, it's got too much repetition of concepts we've already covered and not enough new material. English is DD's strongest subject. Not only is she working several grades ahead, but she also learns new concepts faster than average & has less need of "refresher" lessons.

The teacher's manual for VIE 3 claims that each book reviews everything contained in the previous books in the series & adds new material. So I've decided to exchange the third grade book for the fifth grade book in the hopes that it will have enough material that my DD has not seen before. It'll be a challenge, and we'll probably need to work through it slowly. But I'd rather go at a slower pace through tough material than bore her with something that's too easy.

If VIE 5 proves to be simply too much for her, we can always shelve it until she's a bit older & try something else. Seton has a Catholic grammar series and so does Catholic Heritage Curricula. There are also secular options such as Shurley or Easy Grammar.

Sometimes it would be much easier homeschooling a kid whose strengths lay in a non-intellectual domain...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

What's Your Civics IQ?

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute did a survey of 14,000 college freshmen & seniors at 50 universities to test their knowledge of U.S. civics. The results were pretty dismal as the overall average score for seniors was a mere 54.2%. Even the elite schools in the sample had poor showings:
  • Harvard 69.56%
  • Yale 65.85%
  • Brown 65.64%
  • UVA 65.28%
  • Penn 63.49%
  • Duke 63.41%
  • Princeton 61.9%
  • Cornell 56.95%
  • UC Berkeley 56.27%
I took the test and scored 86.67%. One of them was a boneheaded mistake (I read too quickly and mistook Andrew Johnson for Andrew Jackson). Most of the rest I missed were economics questions, a subject I never formally studied. I had narrowed down the choices to 2 and simply guessed wrong.

I find it very depressing that students who are supposed to be among the best and brightest in our country show such a dreadful lack of civic literacy. While a few of the questions struck me as a bit on the overly nit-picky side(when does Marbury vs. Madison come up aside from "Jeopardy" or the AP U.S. History exam?), the majority were things I would consider to demonstrate a basic understanding of our country's history and government.

(HT: Henry at "Why Homeschool")

Spelling Duhlimmah [sic]

I loathe so-called "invented spelling". To me, it symbolizes the "dumbed down", hippy-dippy, feel-good, "Whole Language" fad so popular in government-run schools in the '90's. My youngest brother had to endure this approach, which placed so much emphasis on building children's "self esteem" and so little on actually teaching them to read, spell, and write properly. I am convinced that it played a large factor in his scoring about 100 points less on the SAT than my other brother, dad, mom, and I did. It wasn't just my brother who struggled, either. There was a marked slump in the school's MCAS (state standardized test) scores for his entire grade compared with previous grades. When it came time for college admissions, significantly fewer of them won spots at top tier schools than was typical. Now either they were simply a dumber bunch of kids (something I doubt given my knowledge of my brother & his friends) or the school simply did not teach them as well as it had previous classes.

In our homeschool, I've decided to reject the "Whole Language" approach in favor of systematic & explicit instruction in things like phonics and grammar. So far, it seems to have worked very well. DD has made great progress in reading and her knowledge of the English language. She's been flying through First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and will probably finish it in late January or early February.

I had not planned on starting a formal spelling or written composition program until she was a bit older; instead, I've been having her dictate compositions orally and do Charlotte Mason-style copywork. The reason for this is that there is a significant lag between her ability to physically write letters and her cognitive ability. I am not concerned by this since I'm pretty confident that her fine motor skills are normal for a girl her age.

In the past week or so, I've noticed that DD has decided on her own to start writing. She'll now do things like write up a menu for her dolls' tea party, a Christmas wish list, a map for Daddy to "show" him the route to his office, labels for the doors to the rooms in our home, and so on. I'm a bit torn by this. On the one hand, I think it's fantastic that she enjoys writing and that I don't have to prompt her to do so. On the other hand, they are full of "invented spellings":

  • WATR
  • VLAN (violin)
All of these are good guesses for words that follow more complex phonics rules. I wouldn't expect a 5 year old to be able to spell them. But they now create a dilemma for me as to what to do about them. What I've been doing so far is praising her attempt and then writing the correct spelling next to her "invented" one. I'm wondering if this will be enough for now or whether it's time to start a formal spelling program like Spelling Power or Starting a Spelling Notebook by Mari McAllister.

I have bad memories of spelling lessons from when I was a kid and part of me is cringing at the mere thought of word lists and quizzes. However, I'm not sure how much of that is due to the fact that the lists were the same for the entire class and consequently far too easy for me. Would I have felt the same utter tedium if the words had been appropriately challenging? Obviously, with homeschooling, I can individually tailor the spelling program to DD's needs in a way impossible in a class of 20-30 students.

I wish I knew what the best course of action would be- to start a formal spelling program now to nip the "invented spelling" in the bud or whether I can hold off on that until she's a bit older.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

TT: 13 Favorite Holiday Meal Dishes


Thanksgiving is a week away so it's time for all the cooks to start their menu planning. I've actually never hosted a big family gathering at Thanksgiving (only Christmas & Easter), but here are some of my favorite dishes to serve at a holiday meal:

1. Orange-Zinfandel glazed ham from the Thanksgiving 101 cookbook by Rick Rodgers. Mix 1 jar orange marmalade with 2 garlic cloves, 1/2 cup red Zinfandel, and 1/2 cup OJ. Marinate ham overnight then bake until done.
2. Roast turkey. A trick I learned to keep the breast from drying out is to ice it prior to sticking the bird in the oven. Another one (if you don't have anyone with heart disease in the family!) is to pin bacon strips on the breast to let the drippings seep into the meat as it cooks.
3. Gravy. I like to make a starter using turkey stock and butter in case the turkey does not give off enough drippings. Also, I like to add 2 Tbsp. of bourbon for flavoring.
4. Sourdough, apple, and sausage stuffing. I make this recipe from Bon Appetit but use sourdough instead of French bread. I've also used Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix & just added the sausage, apple, leeks, and celery.
5. Triple cranberry sauce. I've adapted this recipe by using 100% cranberry juice from the natural foods section in lieu of the cranberry cocktail concentrate and then bumping up the sugar to 1 1/2 cups.
6. Maple-glazed carrots from Thanksgiving 101 by Rick Rodgers. Saute baby carrots in butter, beef broth/bouillion, and real maple syrup. Sprinkle with toasted pecans.
7. Mashed potatoes. The trick with these are to make them as close to the meal as possible so that they're still warm when served. I peel & chop the potatoes a few hours ahead and cover with a couple inches of cool water. Then I start cooking them shortly before the turkey is ready to come out of the oven. By the time the bird is cooled, carved, & ready to go on the table the potatoes are ready to mash.
8. Steamed green beans with slivered almonds. I am not a fan of the traditional green bean casserole made with cream of mushroom soup & french-fried onions on the top.
9. Fruit salad with scoop of rainbow sherbet. This is how my family traditionally starts all big holiday meals.
10. Tiramisu. This is one of those dishes that are really tricky to make well from scratch & it's simply easier just to pick up at one's local bakery.
11. Pecan-Bourbon pie. Another recipe from Rick Rodgers' Thanksgiving 101 cookbook. Add 2 Tbsp. Bourbon to the standard corn syrup-brown sugar-eggs-butter filling. Yum!
12. Apple pie. I like to use tart Granny Smith apples for this. Rick Rodgers has a great suggestion to saute them in butter & sugar prior to putting them in the pie to minimize shrinkage.
13. Weird dish relative always brings & nobody has the heart to tell not to. In my family, this is my aunt's Jell-o salad. She's been showing up with it to every family meal since long before I was born and I'm sure she'll bring it as long as she's able to. I love her dearly but not her odd concoction of lime Jell-o, cottage cheese, pineapple, and vegetables (!) I'm sure your family has a similar dish that everyone has to choke down a small serving of to be polite.

Links to other Thursday Thirteens!

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Do You Need Grad School to Read This Blog?

According to the Gunning-Fox index algorithm, it would take at least 17 years of formal education to understand the content of this blog. I'm taking that with a grain of salt, as I've only had 15 1/2 years myself (I finished college a semester early because of Advanced Placement exam credits).

I do assume a fairly intelligent audience, someone who could read & understand say an article from The New York Times. Most of the people in my social circle IRL are college graduates and a good portion do have advanced degrees, but I also know some very bright individuals who did not follow the conventional educational path.

(HT: Notes from a Homeschooling Mom)

Carnival of Homeschooling #98 is Up!

This week's host for the 98th Carnival of Homeschooling: Thankfulness Edition is "Nerd Family Blog". We can all be thankful for the great smörgåsbord of posts!

10 on Tuesday: 10 Songs That Bring Back Memories

The theme of this week's 10 on Tuesday is "10 songs that bring back memories". It was hard to narrow this down to just ten but here goes in chronological order:

  1. "You May be Right, I May be Crazy" by Billy Joel. For some bizarre reason, my dad decided when I was a little girl to make this our father/daughter song. He loved to put on the record when I had friends over and drag me around the room to embarrass me. I was seriously afraid that he would crash my high school prom to do that but fortunately it didn't happen.
  2. "I Just Can't Wait to be King" from the Lion King soundtrack. This was my high school clique's senior year theme song. It totally captured how anxious we were to get out from under our parents' control and live our own lives.
  3. "December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" by the Four Seasons re-mixed by Ben Liebrand. This was the theme song to my senior prom.
  4. "Brick House" from the Commodores. This was my college sorority chapter's unofficial theme song. Any time we heard it at a party, we would all go out and "shake it down, shake it down now!"
  5. "Another Night, Another Dream" by La Bouche. I took a step aerobics class in college & this was the instructor's favorite song so she would always play it. I can still remember some of the choreography whenever I hear it even though that was over a decade ago.
  6. "Angel Eyes" from the Jeff Healey band. DH and I have very different tastes in music so we never picked an official song while we were dating. When it came time for our wedding reception, we had to decide on one for our first dance. He flatly rejected all my suggestions and finally came up with "Angel Eyes". It's not one I would've picked since it's kind of self-deprecating ("What you're doing with a clown like me/Is surely one of life's little mysteries") but it does have a sweet sentiment.
  7. "Genie in a Bottle" by Christina Aguillera. We used to live out in a remote military base in the Mojave Desert which was 40 miles from the nearest town. There were only 3 radio stations we could receive on this drive- a country station (a genre DH hates), the base one (which played a very eclectic mix depending on who was the DJ), and an adult contemporary one that we generally ended up listening to. For whatever reason, this station had "Genie in a Bottle" in heavy rotation so we would always hear it at least once on the drive to town. It is now forever associated with that road in our mind.
  8. "Good Morning, Beautiful" by Steve Holy. This song was played a lot on the radio when my DD was a newborn. We ended up co-sleeping with her until she started crawling because she absolutely refused to sleep in the bassinet. We got into this ritual where I would sing her the chorus of "Good Morning, Beautiful" every morning. I still do it 5 years later even though she's been in her own room since she was 6 mos.
  9. "Danni California" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. When we did our cross-country road trip in conjunction with our move from Boston to San Francisco, we started keeping track of the most over-played songs on the radio. It was close between this and "Walk Away" by Kelly Clarkson but ultimately this won out.
  10. "Ain't No Other Man" by Christina Aguillera. This song was popular when my DS was a baby and my nickname for him is "Mini-man". So I started singing him the chorus of this song substituting "Mini" for "Other" as his theme song.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bringing Back the M.R.S. Degree?

The Nashua [NH] Telegraph had an interesting article yesterday on the new Homemaking major offered by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX.

To earn this degree, students must complete the following courses:
  • Orientation to Homemaking
  • The Value of a Child
  • Basics of Apparel Design
  • Clothing Construction w/lab
  • Biblical Model for the Home & Family
  • Nutrition
  • Meal Preparation w/lab
  • Homemaking Practicum
  • Senior Seminar
These may be useful things for homemakers to know, but they're not exactly college-level academics. Southwestern charges a tuition of $198/hr for active members of the Southern Baptist church and $396/hr for others. Why not just go to the local Parks & Rec cooking or sewing class for a fraction of the cost?

To be fair, these electives are in addition to the standard humanities courses in history, literature, Classical language, and theology. So it's not a completely "fluffy" degree. But I couldn't help wondering why the parents of the women are willing to foot the bill for their daughters to spend 20% of their college time taking non-academic courses.

Southwestern president Paige Patterson said that his goal in starting the homemaking major is "equipping [the women] to do homeschooling." If that's the case, why aren't they enrolled in the Christian Education major? The required courses for that degree seem both significantly more intellectually rigorous and relevant to future home educators:
  • History and Philosophy of Education
  • Introduction to Christian Education
  • Theology and Education
  • Principles and Methods of Teaching
  • Master Teacher
Let me be clear that I have nothing against women embracing a traditional homemaker role. Raising children and running a household is very valuable work & our society's attitude towards those who have chosen family over career is shameful. But a college degree in homemaking frankly strikes me as a waste of the student's time & her family's money.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Upcoming Discount Horrible Histories Order

Ray over at Del Sol Books is putting together a Horrible Books group order to be placed on Sunday, 11/25 for delivery just after Christmas. We have been pleased with his customer service so far!

Food for Thought on Veterans' Day

God and the Soldier, we adore,
In time of danger, not before.
The danger passed and all things righted,
God is forgotten and the Soldier slighted.
— Rudyard Kipling

May God bless all our brave servicemembers, their families, and all our veterans!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Call for 2007 Homeschool Blog Awards Nominations

You've got until next Saturday, Nov. 17th to nominate your 23 favorite homeschooling blogs for the 2007 Homeschool Blog Awards.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Didn't I See This on an Episode of "Sex and the City"?

I just read a totally depressing statistic: in a 2006 survey of Gen X'ers done by Oppenheimer Funds, 45% of women my age would rather own 30 pairs of designer shoes than have $30,000 in retirement savings :-(

Guess I'm the odd girl out- I don't own a single pair of designer shoes but I do have a decent sized nest egg saved up and no consumer debt. DH does still have some grad school loans but hopefully they'll be paid off by January (knock on wood!) and going back to school helped him secure a significantly higher-paying job. So that was really an investment in his future & I don't feel bad about financing it with debt.

To my fellow spendthrift Gen X'ers I would ask- is it better to pinch one's pennies by choice in one's youth or out of necessity in one's old age?

TT: 13 Signs You Homeschool


It's been a while since I did a Thursday Thirteen. Here are 13 signs that your family educates your children at home:

  1. Your child is actually studying science, history, art, and music in the primary grades.
  2. Your child learns to read from literary classics and not some boring, dumbed-down, politically correct textbook.
  3. Your child can quickly solve an arithmetic problem without the use of a calculator.
  4. Your child points out misspellings and grammatical errors he/she encounters and tells you what it ought to say.
  5. Your child is studying the history and geography of ancient civilizations rather than following the state-mandated "Social Studies" curriculum focusing on holidays and patriotic symbols.
  6. Your child doesn't learn about things by listening to a teacher's lecture and then filling out a boring worksheet but rather by hands-on experience.
  7. Your 2 year old sings along with "God Bless America" every morning.
  8. Your child never hears "it's time to move on now" before he/she is ready or "just sit quietly & wait for the rest of the class to finish".
  9. You don't have to ask your friends, relatives, or co-workers to buy junk they don't need or sponsor your child in some stupid whatever-a-thon.
  10. Your child never gets caught in the middle of a labor dispute between his/her teacher and politicians.
  11. You can let your kids stay up to watch the Red Sox win the World Series without having to worry about them having to get up early the next day for school :-)
  12. When you're out & about with the kids, you often get compliments on how well-behaved they are.
  13. Your children's education actually reinforces your family's values, as opposed to undermining them.

Links to other Thursday Thirteens!
*Please note that I take no responsibility for the content of other blogs*

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

British School Bans Sikh Girl From Wearing Religious Bracelet

Yet another British teen is fighting her school for the right to wear a religious piece of jewelery. Abedare Girls' School in Wales suspended 14-year-old Sarika Singh Monday after she refused to remove her kara. The kara is a slim metal bangle worn at all times to remind Sikhs not to commit sins and is a key part of that faith.

The school argues that Miss Singh's kara violates the dress code, which allows the wearing of only a wrist watch and one pair of plain metal stud earrings.

The Singh family has stated that the teen will remove the kara for safety reasons during gym and woodworking classes but that the total ban violates her right to practice her religion. "We feel very strongly that Sarika has a right to manifest her religion - she's not asking for anything big and flashy, she's not making a big fuss, she just wants a reminder of her religion."

This is reminiscent of the ruling against Lydia Playfoot back in July. Miss Playfoot is a Christian teen whose school banned her from wearing a silver chastity ring inscribed with a Bible verse.

I just don't understand why this is even an issue in Britain. It should be a no-brainer to allow students to wear small, non-distracting pieces of religious jewelery unless it creates a health or safety risk (such as in gym class). Whether it's a Sikh wearing a kara, a Protestant wearing a chastity ring, a Catholic wearing a patron saint medal, or a Jew wearing a Star of David, they all should have the right to practice their respective faiths without interference from school officials.

One more reason to be thankful that the Founding Fathers specifically included the freedom of religion in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution!

Top Prep Schools Offering Free Rides to Moderate Income Students

Phillips Exeter Academy has announced that it will offer free tuition, room & board, books, and a laptop to students from families with an annual income of less than $75,000. Exeter is one of the top boarding schools in the U.S. and roughly 1/3 of its graduating class goes on to an Ivy League college. Another elite prep school, St. Paul's, started a similar program last year for students from families making less than $65,000/yr.

My maternal grandfather was a poor farm boy who was lucky enough to win a scholarship to attend Mt. Hermon. He went on to graduate with honors from Wesleyan and earn a PhD. from Harvard.

I hope that these new programs from Exeter and St. Paul's give other bright kids from modest backgrounds the same ticket to a better life that my grandfather received! I also hope that additional prep schools implement similar aid packages for moderate income families. No qualified student should be denied the chance for a good education simply because he or she was not born into an affluent family.

10 Week Curricular Round-Up Pt. 3: Misses

Over the past few days, I've been doing an assessment of this year's curricular materials after 10 weeks of use. On Monday, I discussed the "hits". Yesterday, I discussed the "mixed bags". Today, I'm going to finish up with discussing the "misses". Fortunately, there have not been too many of these.

History Pockets: Ancient Egypt
and History Pockets: Ancient Civilizations from Evan-Moor. I had thought DD would really enjoy using these to make lapbooks but she has not shown much interest so far. She did a few of the pages & quickly tired of all the cutting and pasting.

Can You Count in Greek: Exploring Ancient Number Systems from Prufrock Press. This workbook had looked like an interesting way to integrate subjects by examining how ancient civilizations did math. It covers the number systems of the Egyptians, Sumerians, Greeks, Romans, Mayans, and Hindus. I tried doing one of the Egyptian pages with DD and by the 5th problem she was totally balking.

Illustrated Book of Saints by Rev. Thomas Donaghy. This book manages to turn even the most interesting saints' stories into a snooze-fest. Definitely one to avoid!

Barbie Practice Printing workbook, Dora the Explorer Lowercase abc's workbook, Crayola Alphabet Activities Poster workbook, Kumon Write & Wipe Alphabet Cards, etc. I've tried a number of different penmanship materials and none have panned out. DD does much better with Charlotte Mason-style copywork. She still hates it but at least she's making some progress with it.

Overall, I think I did fairly well in choosing which materials to try this school year. Most of our main curricula have been "hits" or at least their benefits outweigh their flaws.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

10 Week Curricular Round-Up Pt. 2: "Mixed Bag"

We just started our 11th week of DD's kindergarten year & I'm reflecting on which materials have worked for us so far and which have not. Yesterday, I discussed the "hits". Today, I'm reviewing the materials about which I have mixed feelings. Some of these items that are fine for what they are but just not the right "fit" for our family. Others are more of a disappointment because although they have certain aspects I really like, they are flawed.

First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise. I really liked The Well-Trained Mind by Mrs. Wise and her daughter Susan Wise Bauer. The neo-Classical approach appeals to me with its emphasis on academic rigor and building children's minds through exposure to the best of previous generations. So why did Mrs. Wise choose to alter and "dumb-down" the selections of poetry & stories for narration? Very disappointing :-( I also feel that many of the concepts covered are far too easy for the target audience of 1st & 2nd graders (days of the week, months of the year, seasons, holidays, family relationships, the child's address, and so on). These are the kinds of things taught in the preschool program DD attended back when I had to work full-time. The grammatical concepts covered are good but dragged out too long and then excessively returned to. Having periodic "refresher" lessons to review previous concepts is fine but they don't need to be as frequent as FLL has them. I'd originally figured that we would condense FLL down into 1 year but we've covered almost the entire first half of the book in just 10 weeks. At the rate we've been going, we'll be done by January.

Story of the World Volume 1 Activity Book by Susan Wise Bauer. This has been somewhat of a useful reference for our study of Ancient History. The book suggestions are helpful and DD seems to have enjoyed the crafts & other projects we've done. The biggest issue I've had has been with what is lacking from the book. It's been tricky trying to figure out how to incorporate Biblical history back into the secular history of SOTW. I'd looked at some of the popular Christian history programs but they had their own set of issues for our family (Protestant viewpoint, "Young Earth" chronology, minimal or no coverage of non-Western civilizations, etc). I did end up buying a unit study on Ancient Israel from History Links to supplement SOTW.

Biology for Every Kid and The Human Body for Every Kid by Janice Van Cleave. DD has really liked some of the experiments we've tried from these books but others did not capture her interest.

Think Analogies A1 & B1
from Critical Thinking Press. We've been using these to prep for the WordMasters Challenge. I think these are a great introduction to analogies and also helpful for teaching vocabulary. I've seen real progress in DD's analogy-solving abilities since we began using them. However, DD thinks they are boring. She really wants to be on the Word Masters team, though, so she's been plowing through a page a day. But it definitely is not the highlight of our day!

Knights of the Square Table from Winter Promise. This actually seems to be a pretty good introduction to chess. DD has definitely been making progress in learning to play. Unfortunately, she does not seem to have a great interest in the game. That is probably my fault, as I don't care much for chess myself and my lack of enthusiasm is likely showing. I'm trying to get her to the point where she can play with DH, who enjoys chess but doesn't have the patience to play with a novice.

Language of God Level A from Catholic Heritage Curricula. We've been using this as a supplement to FLL since that book is secular and does not have any workbook exercises. It's been fine for that purpose, but it definitely would not be enough on its own as it's designed to be. I debated whether to put this as a "hit" because I've been happy with the product. I ultimately decided to list it here as I feel the need to qualify my recommendation of it.

Tomorrow, I'll discuss the "misses"- products that have been total duds in our homeschool.

97th Carnival of Homeschooling is Up!

Dana over at "Principled Discovery" is hosting this week's 97th Carnival of Homeschooling: Homeschool University edition. Dana obviously spent a lot of time & effort preparing the CoH, go check it out!

Monday, November 5, 2007

10 Week Curriculum Round-Up Part 1: Hits

We've now completed 10 full weeks of our fall semester, and it's time for some reflection on the curricular materials we've been using. On the whole, I've been relatively pleased with our choices but of course, some have worked out better than others. Over the next few days, I'm going to discuss the hits, the "mixed bags", and the misses.

First up, are the hits:

Right Start Math Level B
from Activities for Learning. Given the expense of this program, I'm very thankful that it seems a good "fit" for my DD. She really appears to be making good progress in math and actually understanding the concepts rather than just relying on her memory. Using the manipulatives and the games definitely works well for her learning style. I appreciate the scripted lessons as they make it easy to teach a subject that is not my strong suit. The one issue we've had with RS has been with the amount of writing required. Although it's less than many other programs, it still seems to be a bit much for her. It's been a challenge figuring out how to compensate for the fact that her cognitive ability is ahead of her fine motor skills.

Mind Benders Beginning Books 1 & 2
from Critical Thinking Press. DD loves these logic games workbooks! She'd probably have finished them in days if I'd let her. Too bad they're a bit on the pricey side :-(

Disney Princess Addition & Subtraction Workbook and Disney Time & Money Workbook from Bendon Publishing. I'm not a big fan of workbook exercises, but DD absolutely loves these! It's amazing what slapping a picture of her favorite Disney characters on a page will do to motivate her to practice math. These are also very handy for taking with us on field trips to turn time spent on public transit into learning time.

Webster's American Family Dictionary from Merriam-Webster. My DD is an advanced reader and has pretty much outgrown our children's dictionary. Because of her young age, I'd obviously been very concerned about letting her use our regular dictionary. There was one word we looked up that was on the same page as a term for an intimate act that I can't mention on a family-friendly blog, yikes! The Webster's American Family Dictionary is perfect for us since it's a basically a sanitized version of the Webster's College Dictionary. It is comprehensive enough for our needs (135,000 definitions) while still being appropriate for all ages. Highly recommended!

Titles from the Horrible Histories series by Terry Dreary and Horrible Science series by Nick Arnold and Tony De Saulles. A bit on the gruesome side so parents should preview them but they're really engaging. We're definitely going to be ordering some more of these!

History Dudes: Ancient Egyptians by Rich Cando. These are similar to the Horrible Histories but more graphics-heavy and not quite as gorey. Right now there are only 2 volumes in the series (Ancient Egyptians and Vikings) but more are in the works.

Graphic Mythology: Ancient Egypt by Gary Jeffrey. A comic-book style retelling of some famous ancient Egyptian myths. Other titles in the series cover myths from Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, China, Africa, and Mesoamerica.

Moo Cow Fan Club magazine. A big "Thank you!" to Melissa Wiley for letting me know about this wonderfully entertaining & educational resource.

Faith & Life: Our Heavenly Father
from Ignatius Press. I've been very pleased with our catechism program. No wishy-washy, "feel-good" Catholicism Lite such as the parish CCD program I had growing up! It's a rigorous and orthodox introduction to the teachings of the Church. There are concepts this 1st grade text has covered that I did not learn until I was an adult. I definitely recommend spending the money on the teacher's manual because it's really the "meat" of the program.

Just Like Mary and Living the Ten Commandments for Children by Rosemarie Gortler & Donna Piscitelli. These little books are wonderful complements to Our Heavenly Father. They explain Marian doctrine and the 10 Commandments in an easy-to-understand yet orthodox way.

Loyola Kids Book of Saints and Loyola Kids Book of Heroes by Amy Welborn. The stories are very engaging, and there is a good mix of familiar and unfamiliar saints, blesseds, and other Catholic heroes from throughout the ages. I really like the organization by theme. In the heroes book, it is by the 7 Cardinal Virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, Temperance, Prudence, Fortitude, and Justice. In the saints book, they are by what the saints are known for (loving children, teaching us new ways to pray, helping the poor and sick, changing their lives for God, etc.) Ms. Welborn does a good job presenting the stories in an age-appropriate manner, which is always a concern given the violence many of the saints had to endure. The one quibble I would make is that she does not use proper capitalization for pronouns referring to God (i.e. she uses "his" when it should be "His" and so on). I hope the next edition corrects this grammatical error!

Click here for Part 2 of my 10 Week Curriculum Round-Up. These are the "mixed bag" category, things about which I had high hopes but didn't quite work out as well in actual use.