Thursday, January 31, 2019

Travel Agent to Traffic Cop the Changing Role of an Unschooling Parent of Teens

When the children were younger, I thought of myself as an educational tour guide leading tours through text books, pointing out interesting subjects, and finding fun activities.

Drawing by E(age14)
These days, my teens don't need me to point the way so much as keep things moving, and I find now that they've jumped off the tour bus and behind the wheels of their own cars (literally and metaphorically speaking) I've become a traffic cop rather than a travel agent. 

According to a  job description for a traffic officer from
  • Traffic officers help keep roads and walkways free of congestion so regular traffic, emergency vehicles and pedestrians can move about safely. I try to keep a clear environment, decluttering our spaces as much as possible, and keeping books and supplies weeded down and as easily accessible as I can.  I also find a good deal of my day is spent keeping things flowing - making sure schedules don't conflict, everyone has a ride to where they need to go, and helping the kids juggle computers and books (and bathrooms) so that everyone has what they need to proceed through the day.
  • Traffic officers typically need a high school diploma or the equivalent, along with a valid driver's license, and they also receive on-the-job training and class instruction. A valid driver's license is helpful for homeschooling too, since I'm running the younger teens everywhere, and on-the-job training or continuing education has been a must. There's always something new to know, and I want to be sure to stay at least one step ahead of the kids if I can.  Helping students stuck on multiplication and fractions was easy, but remembering factorials has required review.
  • Sometimes traffic officers issue a warning before issuing a citation. They also check vehicles that are parked in metered parking spots to see if they have been there beyond the time limit. If so, they issue a warning or citation, or in extreme cases, impound the vehicle. Traffic officers are also responsible for impounding vehicles that are illegally parked or abandoned.  Change "in metered parking spots" to "on the couch" and "impound the vehicle" to "Impound the Nintendo Switch" and you get the gist.
  • Traffic officers are responsible for directing traffic during parades, road work or accidents. They may assume the responsibility of the crossing guard if one is not present. I might not function as a crossing guard, but in my newly assumed role as school guidance counselor, I'm often clearing paths and cutting through red-tape to make way for our little parade.
  • Traffic officers may also control crowds during emergencies to make sure fire and rescue workers can get to the scene safely.  Anyone with a house full of teens together...all day...everyday (or at least pretty often) knows what it is to be on crowd and safety patrol.
Oh! And I just thought of one more this morning.
  • Traffic officers may provide roadside assistance.  Just like that kindly officer stopping to ask if everything is okay when you're stalled on the side of the road, or trying to change a flat tire, I pull up beside my teens when they are stalled out, stuck, or in distress on an assignment, and offer assistance if it is needed - whether that is helping them myself (just enough to get them moving aging), or calling ahead for help, but instead of a tow-truck it's an expert YouTuber working out a sample problem, complete with answers, or even just with an encouraging word (like that, "You can't park here!  It's best to keep moving" you get when you try to pull over on an off-ramp).
It's great to be a homeschooler.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - New Drivers

Every parent has to deal with new drivers, but for homeschool parents dealing with driver's tests, driver's education, and well all things terrifying teen driver related can be one of the first steps back into the mainstream world of parenting - sort of the first little speed bump on the road out of homeschooling and into adulthood.

Drawing by E (age 14)

We currently have four licensed drivers - two with full blown diver's licenses, two with learner's permits, and one more standing by hoping to take driver's ed. this summer.  The process is slightly different from state to state, and I'm sure even more so from country to country, but some of the headaches and hassles are the same.  So, this is another topic I thought I'd hit while it's still fresh in my mind.

Things have changed from when we learned to drive.

  • Kids start out earlier, but often don't drive on their own until later.

It used to be you dropped in at the DMV on your 15th birthday (or as soon after it as you could manage) to take the written test (on a computer with pictures if you were lucky) to get your learner's license.  Then you spent the next year driving with your parents, or any other licensed driver (or a driver's ed. instructor, if you wanted a discount on your insurance) until you turned 16, when you returned to the DMV to take your driving test and receive your license.
  • Now if you're enrolled in a state sanctioned driver's education program you can earn your permit at the age of 14 and half (in Montana, in other states it varies between 14 and 16), and graduated (meaning restricted) license by the time you're 15!
That being said, many new driver's aren't even trying for their licenses until they are older (a fact taken from personal observation, rather than hard data).

  • With a graduated license it is the number of practice hours that matter (50 in Montana) as well as the number of months (6 months) that you hold a permit.  Younger drivers have to keep a driving log to show the number of hours they've driven, as well as the time of day (some of the hours have to be at night), and various weather conditions encountered.  This doesn't matter so much for older driver's who simply take the driving test 6 months after their permit test, and move on.
It's convoluted

The graduated licenses have more restrictions and rules than the old permits and licenses.  Suffice it to say if you're unfamiliar with the "new" licensing process, you'll want to check into your state regulations sometime around the time your children turn 14, just to give yourself time to wrap your mind around all the rules and regulations.

Driver's Education

Not all homeschool students take driver's education classes, but keep in mind if you're planning on it, that they are often run through the local high schools.  Since we're out of the public school loop, homeschool have to be on the ball (and on the high school websites) to catch registration and class dates.

My kids were less than thrilled to head into a big high school on their own - cold turkey.  My oldest two opted to take driver's education together, so they could buddy-up.  They were the only homeschoolers in their class, but not the only siblings.  It ended up being a good thing, since the class started afterschool, meaning they had to head in against the flow of 1000 or more high schoolers leaving classes for the day.   It also allowed them to tag team the endless questions about homeschooling from their curious classmates.

The downside of their taking class together was that it meant practice driving with two at once for the Man of the House and me, instead of just one at a time.  That was a lot of "in the car" hours to add into our schedule.  

Few insurances offer discounts for driver's ed. anymore, and driver's ed. is expensive ($150/student in our area), so many homeschool families opt out of the program.  In that case, they wait until their children are old enough to earn a standard permit (16 years old in Montana), and then just teach their students themselves.  We've tried both ways, but prefer having the extra help even if it is a hassle.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Taking the Next-Gen Accuplacer Math Test

Drawing by E(age 14)
I've mentioned, in passing, already a few of the tests we've encountered during our teens' high school years.  D (age 16) took the Accuplacer (college placement) math test today, and I thought I'd share the steps of the process we walked through while they're still fresh in my mind.  The details of each step might vary slightly depending on the testing center, but the general idea will be the same.

The Timing 

Taking the test today was a last minute decision (we decided on it yesterday), but not completely random.
  • Dual-enrollment registration for the summer term at our nearest community college is in April, so if D decides he wants to take a class this summer, he will need to have a high enough Accuplacer or SAT score to meet the class prerequisites (this is information you can find in your college's course catalogue), and he doesn't want to take the SAT until next spring, or the following fall.
  • You have to have a picture ID.  He just earned his driving permit - so now has a picture ID.
  • By taking the test early we could see where he's at, and give him time to improve anything that needed improving before trying again (only the latest test score matters for placement).
The Process
  • On our college website we clicked into the testing center's page (our college has its own testing center - some will send you elsewhere, but that information should be in their admissions information).
  • On the testing center page we clicked "Test Request" from the menu.
  • That put us into a new menu where we clicked on "Schedule Test"
  • Then we had to create a login for D with an email and password (I recorded the email and password we used for him on a sheet of paper that will go in our high school file - aka the old crayon drawer)
  • Finally, we were able to choose the test we wanted.  For the Accuplacer there were three choices:  Math (90 min), Reading & Writing (180 min), or Math, Reading & Writing (240 min) - those are average times the tests take, there is no time limit other than the hours of the testing center (so you don't want to schedule the test for right before they close).
  • We picked just the math (we'll go back later for the reading and writing)
  • We were asked to choose a date and time (a pop-up showed us available times on each date).  Our center requires a 24 hour notice for test (usually) so we scheduled for the next day.
  • We were sent a confirmation email, and prompted to click on a link to create a test ID for D (I copied that down on a sticky note to take along to the testing center).
  • Today we showed up about 15 minutes early to the testing center to sign in (which consisted of showing his picture ID, signing a sheet of paper, and handing over the test ID I had copied from the link, paying $5.00 by debit or credit card - no cash or checks, showing the proctor his water bottle - they like them to have lids, and his bag of candy - they don't normally allow snacks, but if they are quiet and non-distracting they'll usually let it slide, and handing his coat off to me)  The test has a pop-up calculator when needed, and the testing center provides scratch paper and pencils, and a locker to put any of your stuff in that you can't take into the room.
  • He took the test (it took him about 2 hours) - and he needed to type in our phone number and zip code at the beginning. I waited in the waiting room and read a book.
  • When he was finished we received his score sheet with a list of the college level math classes he is now eligible to take (most colleges have a flow sheet that will explain the scores and compare them with equivalent SAT and ACT scores - but it might take some digging to find).
Questions D had before the Test
  • Is it a timed test? No.
  • Is it on paper or a computer? Computer.
  • How is the testing room set up?  Ours is a classroom sized room with rows of computers at desks with little cubicle type dividers around them.  D ended up being alone in the room.
  • How many questions are there? It varies depending on how far you get into the test.
  • How does the test work? It is multiple choice. The questions gradually get harder until you can't do them anymore (basically).  
What's Next? 

D did well enough today, that he will not need to take the math portion of the test again.  He can register for the math classes he wants when April roles around.  When A (age 17) took the test, she took the entire thing at once, and petered out before the end of the math section.  She was not pleased with her score, and went back to retake it a couple of times until she liked the score she received. We will probably wait a week or so and then schedule the writing and reading portion of the test for D.

Did he study?

This is an assessment test that checks to see whether or not a student is ready for college level work, so while you can study (there are practice questions and tests on the College Board website) D did not.  I wanted to see where he was at first, and wanted to keep everything as low pressure as possible.  We don't take many tests at home (basically none) so trying to make the first "out of the house" tests as simple and enjoyable as possible is very important to me.

Your student's experiences might end up being a bit different, but all the same, I hope this glimpse into our day helps you plan yours.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Trust the Process

T (age 21) had a half dozen haiku to write, this weekend, for one of his college classes.  I was worried.

"Do you know how to write a haiku?"

"Of course I do," he snorted. "Do you think you taught me nothing, woman?"

I glanced at his sister across the room.


She shook her head thoughtfully, "Avatar: The Last Airbender."


It's great to be a homeschooler.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Friday Fun: The Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie

A week of reading through YA dystopian fiction finally paid off with a find I'm happy to pass on to my youngest two (ages 12 and 14) to read.

I put off reading Ally Condie's trilogy at first, because I was pretty sure I was going to hate it.  A quick glance at the back of the book makes it very clear it's a teen romance in a dystopian setting, and despite the fact that I adored several teen romances when I was the girls' age (L'Engle's A Moon by Night comes to mind)…

… I was hoping for more discussion stirring dystopia than romance to kick off a study into the genre.

Not to mention that this series has some of the worst book trailers I have ever seen.

But the books kept coming up in my "suggested for you" lists, and I like the cover art - it's visually appealing, and the online library had a copy of the audio book available, so it's not like it was going to cost me anything to read/listen to it.  And, I'm so glad I did.  While there is a love triangle, and a bit of kissing here and there (even Harry Potter has that), there are also plenty of dystopian themes to delve into, as well as a good dose of poetry (the reader should be fairly familiar with poems by Dylan Thomas and Alfred, Lord Tennyson by the end of the trilogy), and art...

"Chasm of the Colorado" by Thomas Moran; (c) Arlene Braithwaite
… and even a bit of botany.  Did you know that the sago lily bulbs are edible (I'm sure you do if you live in Utah, like the author)?

The book series site has instructions for folding a paper lily (or some kind of paper flower) inspired by events in the books, as well as poetry writing tips, bits of trivia, a few games, and party planning ideas.  I spent far too long today failing miserably at trying to fold a flower, while the girls lost themselves into the pages of the first book in the series.

I can't wait for them to catch up, so they can try their hands at folding the flowers too (hopefully with more success, so they can show me what I'm doing wrong).

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - From Formless Days to Days of Forms

Today was a day of forms - forms and deadlines.

D (age 16) took his driver's permit test, and at the DMV there was a form which he struggled and worried his way through.  I assured him it gets easier with each one you have to fill out.  That one might have been his first.

Drawing by E (age 14)
Meanwhile, I left A (age 17) at home surrounded by them.  There was the "application for graduation" form for the college (she wants an associates degree even though she's headed straight on into a bachelors program, just because).  There were also the scholarship forms (which we were reminded are coming due at the beginning of February), and for those she'll need an updated transcript with her latest classes added.

Watching her (or rather pushing her - sort of like a rock up a hill) my stomach started to tighten and churn as I made a mental check list of the other forms and deadlines looming.

Did T (age 21) remember to double check that his bank had released his tuition payment to the University? For some reason they always think it's credit fraud.

Doesn't A have a test she has to take sometime this semester if she wants to take elementary education classes next year?  Does it have a sign-up deadline?

And D will need to take the ACCUPLACER before he signs up for dual enrollment for next fall.  Is the registration date this spring, or is it in the summer?

Drawing by E (age 14)
And I just got that email about opening of registration for the summer drama camp C (age 12) wants to do.

And doesn't A have another form deadline coming up for the homeschool grad?



Drawing by E (age 14)
And, I'm reminded once again how much homeschooling has been like riding an escalator.

Remember that first time you rode one with your children when they were toddlers, how you kind of had to lift them onto that first step, because the movement was frightening - or even worse, how they jumped on and started up the mobile stairway while you were still trying to figure out how to balance a stroller, the shopping bags, and a baby on your hip while stepping onto a moving surface?

But once you were on, it was an easy ride for the most part, not quite restful, but pleasant...

… until your sweeties caught sight of the stairs disappearing under the floor at the top.  And, while you assured them no one ever gets sucked under with the stairs, you kind of worried about their toes and shoe laces.

That's what homeschooling is like.

It takes faith to step onto that escalator, and forms to step back off at the top, merging back into the mainstream -so...many...forms.

But now the kids are teens, not toddlers. And, no one has ever actually gotten sucked under with those steps.  I know it's true.  I just can't quite stop myself from worrying about their toes and shoelaces.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Clearing out the Crayons.

I decided tonight, it was time to clear out our coloring drawer - the lower kitchen drawer I have always kept full of crayons and paper, in easy reach of young hands.  It was a little sad.  It does actually seem like yesterday I was recycling our empty cereal boxes into crayon cadies.

But looking back at the post about them, I can see it was more than seven years ago.

That little girl is taller than I am now, and keeps her own art supplies - charcoal pencils and pastels, locked away in her room out of my reach (Mom has been known to use drawing pencils for writing notes).  She (and her even taller siblings) no longer need a coloring drawer close to the floor, or so many crayons, for that matter - one box up on the shelf is more than enough for our needs these days. And I can use the drawer space...

… to store immunization records, high school transcripts, SAT scores, scholarship links, college application log-in passwords, W-2s, tax forms, and the other necessary, but never easy to find "grown-up" forms and records for my high schoolers and beyonds.  So, I'm off to throw away a garbage bag full of broken crayons and dried up markers, and then to search out manila envelopes (one for each child).

Closing the crayon drawer on our elementary years, and opening it to our high school, college prep and career planning phase.

It's great to be a homeschooler. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Dystopian Beginnings and Endings Matching Exercise.

Just for fun today, I spent some time (more than I'd like to admit) gathering first and last paragraphs from a random assortment of young adult, dystopian novels.

After I had a baker's dozen, I started reading first lines to my youngest two daughters (ages 12 and 14).  They recognized a couple from stories they have read, but for the most part the sentences were strange and new to them.  It was interesting to watch their reactions to the single lines, and hear their thoughts on whether the sentences might be enough to compel them to read on into the stories.

I didn't tell them which lines went with which stories, because tomorrow I want to print out, and cut apart the paragraphs to see if they can match the beginnings of each story (printed in red) with the correct endings (printed in blue) based on writing style, or clues in the paragraphs such as character names or settings.

Once they have the beginnings and endings matched, they can compare and contrast writing styles, and think about how much, or how little each author chose to reveal about their story in the opening lines.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

Out of the corner of my eye I see Peeta extend his hand. I look at him, unsure. 
"One more time? For the audience?" he says. His voice isn't angry. It's hollow which is worse. Already I see the boy with the bread slipping away from me.
I take his hand, holding on tightly, preparing for the moment when I will finally have to let go.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

“There is one mirror in my house. It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs. Our faction allows me to stand in front of it on the second day of every third month, the day my mother cuts my hair. I sit on the stool and my mother stands behind me with the scissors, trimming. The strands fall on the floor in a dull, blond ring. When she finishes, she pulls my hair away from my face and twists it into a knot. I note how calm she looks and how focused she is. She is well-practiced in the art of losing herself. I can’t say the same myself.”
Abnegation and Dauntless are both broken, their members scattered. We are like the factionless now. I do not know what life will be like, separated from a faction - it feels disengaged, like a leaf divided from the tree that gives it sustenance. We are creatures of loss: we have left everything behind. I have no home, no path, and no certainty. I am no longer Tris, the selfless, or Tris, the brave.
I suppose that now, I must become more than either.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened. No. Wrong word, Jonas thought. Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen. Frightened was the way he had felt a year ago when an unidentified aircraft had overflown the community twice. He had seen it both times. Squinting toward the sky, he had seen the sleek jet, almost a blur at its high speed, go past, and a second later heard the blast of sound that followed. Then one more time, a moment later, from the opposite direction, the same plane.
Downward, downward, faster and faster. Suddenly he was aware with certainty and joy that below, ahead, they were waiting for him; and that they were waiting, too for the baby. For the first time, he heard something that he knew to be music. He heard people singing.
Behind him, across vast distances of space and time, from the place he had left, he thought he heard music too. But perhaps it was only an echo.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air.
Metal ground against metal; a lurching shudder shook the floor beneath him. He fell down at the sudden movement and shuffled backward on his hands and feet, drops of sweat beading on his forehead despite the cool air. His back struck a hard metal wall; he slid along it until he hit the corner of the room. Sinking to the floor, he pulled his legs up tight against his body, hoping his eyes would soon adjust to the darkness.
Please respond with your own reactions. The subjects will be allowed one full night’s sleep before Stage 2 implementation. At this time, let’s allow ourselves to feel hopeful.
Group B’s trial results were also most extraordinary. I need time to process the data, but we can touch on it in the morning.
Until tomorrow, then.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.
Of course, Tally thought, you’d have to feed your cat only salmon-flavored cat food for a while to get the pinks right. The scudding clouds did look a bit fishy, rippled into scales by a high-altitude wind. As the light faded, deep blue gaps of night peered through like an upside-down ocean, bottomless and cold.
Tally smiled. At least she was causing trouble to the end.
“I’m Tally Youngblood,” she said. “Make me pretty.”

Matched by Ally Condie
Now that I’ve found the way to fly, which direction should I go into the night? My wings aren’t white or feathered; they’re green, made of green silk, which shudders in the wind and bends when I move—first in a circle, then in a line, finally in a shape of my own invention. The black behind me doesn’t worry me; neither do the stars ahead.
My words never last long, I have to destroy them before anyone sees them.
But, I remember them all. For some reason, the act of writing them down makes me remember. Each word I write brings me closer to finding the right ones. And when I see Ky again, which I know will happen, I will whisper the words I have written in his ear, against his lips. And they will change from ash and nothing into flesh and blood.

The Selection by Kiera Cass
WHEN WE GOT THE LETTER in the post, my mother was ecstatic. She had already decided that all our problems were solved, gone forever. The big hitch in her brilliant plan was me. I didn’t think I was a particularly disobedient daughter, but this was where I drew the line.

“Right,” I said, remembering my new label.
I was born into a family of Fives—artists and musicians who were generally poorly paid—and though I hated the caste system in general, I liked what I did for a living. It was strange to think of myself as a Three, to consider embracing teaching or writing as a profession.
“Stop stressing,” Marlee said, reading my face. “you don’t have anything to worry about yet.”

Legend by Marie Lu
Obviously I’m not dead, but it’s safer for her to think so.
At least twice a month, I see my Wanted poster flashed on the JumboTrons scattered throughout downtown Los Angeles. It looks out of place up there. Most of the pictures on the screens are of happy things: smiling children standing under a bright blue sky, tourists posing before the Golden Gate Ruins, Republic commercials in neon colors. There’s also anti-Colonies propaganda. “The Colonies want our land,” the ads declare. “They want what they don’t have. Don’t let them conquer your homes! Support the cause!”

I close my eyes and think of Metias, of all my favorite memories and even the ones I’d rather forget, and I picture him bathed in light. In my mind, I turn to him and give him a final farewell. Someday I’ll see him again, and we’ll tell our stories to each other…but for now I lock him safely away, in a place where I can draw on his strength. When I open my eyes, Day is watching me. He doesn’t know what I’m thinking, but I know he recognizes the emotion on my face.
We lie there together, watching the lightning and listening to the thunder, and waiting for the beginning of a rainy dawn.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.
But I notice the only way I can tell this is from the sound of his voice, a voice sharper and smarter than any old Prentisstown voice he might once have had, and that the nothing I heard coming from him when I ran into Haven is still a big nothing in whatever room this is and it’s matched by a big nothing from Mr. Collins.
They ain’t got Noise.
Neither of ‘em.

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
In the city of Ember, the sky was always dark. The only light came from great flood lamps mounted on the buildings and at the tops of poles in middle of the larger squares.  When the lights were on, they cast a yellowish glow over the streets; people walking by threw long shadows that shortened and then stretched out again. When the lights were off, as they were between nine at night and six in the morning, the city was so dark that people might as well have been wearing blindfolds.
Mrs. Murdo, walking even more briskly than usual to keep her spirits up, was crossing Harken Square when something fell to the pavement just in front of her with a terrific thump.  How extraordinary, she thought, bending to pick it up. It was a sort of bundle. She began to untie it.

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.  In happier times, London would never have bothered with such feeble prey. The great Traction City had once spent its days hunting far bigger towns than this, ranging north as far as the edge of the Ice Wastes and south to the shores of the Mediterranean. But lately prey of any kind had started to grow scarce, and some of the larger cities had begun to look hungrily at London.

She knelt beside him, resting her arms on his knees and her head on her arms, and Tom found that he was smiling in spite of himself at her crooked smile. “You aren’t a hero, and I’m not beautiful, and we probably won’t live happily ever after,” she said. “But we’re alive, and together, and we’re going to be alright.”

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

"I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and tell you he's the one. Or at least as close as we're going to get." 
"That's what you said about the brother." 
"The brother tested out impossible. For other reasons. Nothing to do with his ability." 
"Same with the sister. And there are doubts about him. He's too malleable.  Too willing to submerge himself in someone else's will." 
"Not if the other person is his enemy." 
"So what do we do? Surround him with enemies all the time?" 
"If we have to." 
"I thought you said you liked this kid." 
"If the buggers get him, they'll make me look like his favorite uncle." 
"All right. We're saving the world, after all. Take him."

So they boarded a starship and went from world to world. Wherever they stopped, he was always Andrew Wiggin, itinerant speaker for the dead, and she was always Valentine, historian errant, writing down the stories of the living while Ender spoke the stories of the dead. And always Ender carried with him a dry white cocoon, looking for the world where the hive-queen could awaken and thrive in peace. He looked a long time.

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

When I was quite small I would sometimes dream of a city – which was strange because is began before I even knew what a city was. But this city, clustered on the curve of a big blue bay, would come into my mind. I could see the streets, and the buildings that lined them, the waterfront, even the boats in the harbor; yet, waking, I had never seen the sea, or a boat…

‘I’m beginning to believe it’s real and true at last,’ I told Rosalind. ‘You were never with me those other times.’

She turned her head. The under-Rosalind was in her face, smiling, shiny-eyed. The armor was gone. She let me look beneath it. It was like a flower opening…

‘This time, David –’ she began. Then she was blotted out. 

We staggered, and put our hands to our heads. Even the floor under our feet jerked a little. Anguished protests came from all directions.
' Oh, sorry,' Petra apologized to the ship's crew, and to the city in general, 'but it is awfully exciting.' '

This time, darling, we'll forgive you,' Rosalind told her. ' It is. '

Monday, January 21, 2019

YA Dystopian Classics - The Chrysalids

Do you remember the first young adult, dystopian novel you ever read?  For me, it was John Wyndham's The Chrysalids. I read it sometime around the 6th grade, and then again this weekend.

I've been reading a number of YA dystopian novels lately, looking for a series to read with my younger three to follow up The Hunger Games, and hopefully lead us into a study of the genre.  I'm finding, they are all very similar - but they are not all well written or worth reading.  Some, in fact, are embarrassingly awful. A few are interesting, but contain subject matter or language that would make them awkward or inappropriate to read out loud together.

After reading and rejecting several, I started wondering if it wasn't the writing, but me.  They are young adult fiction after all, and I am certainly not a young adult.  

So, I went back to the beginning and re-read Wyndham's classic, and found that even though it was originally published in 1955, and directed at a younger audience (the protagonist is 10 years old at the beginning of the story, aging to 20 by the end),the writing is sharp, the themes are still relevant, challenging, and as thought provoking as anything Atwood or Orwell have asked adult readers to consider - really quite the (six-toed) feat.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Friday Fun: Sabaton

Have a metal head you'd like to turn into a history buff?  You might want to check out Sabaton.

Sabaton /ˈsæbətɒn/ is a Swedish power metal band from Falun. The band's main lyrical themes are based on war, historical battles, and acts of heroism[1]—the name is a reference to a sabaton, knight's foot armor. The armor and battle theme is heard in the albums Primo Victoria, The Art of War, Coat of Arms, Carolus Rex, Heroes, and The Last Stand in which all of the songs contain these motifs, except final tracks which are tribute songs to influential heavy metal bands. Lyrical content drawn from World War I, World War II and other historical conflicts is prevalent and lyrics often recite stories of heroic deeds by men and armies. (from Wikipedia)

I'm not a huge fan of heavy metal (unless you count Petra back in the '80s) but I've enjoyed watching through some of their videos this morning, googling battles and the names of people from the past.

Did you know, for instance, that Audie Murphy wrote poetry to help work through his post traumatic stress?

Or that "Bushido" is the collective term for the Samurai code of conduct similar to the concept of chivalry for European knights?

Okay, my oldest just told me I should really have already known that last one  - apparently it was featured in one of the Magic Tree House stories, or something.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Lego Mindstorm

With the start of the new year, I've been slowly sorting through our closets and cupboards in yet another winter's bid to be better organized.  I've been clearing out science kits, and picture books, and trying to decide what we might still use and what we've finally completely outgrown - when I came across our old Lego Mindstorm NXT 2.0 kit.

It's an old enough set to be discontinued now, but still in pristine shape (not a great testament to it's value for us).

We bought it for our oldest, one year when our school spending had been unusually low leaving some splurge ready surplus right as a career placement test suggested he might have a future in robotics (which I think now, could have been more an indicator that he was going to have a future interest in reading science fiction books - but hindsight and all that).

We'd seen a similar kit at the state fair, and he had enjoyed fiddling with it, but there the robot was already built and it was just a matter of following some very simple steps to program it to move around a little track.   Once we had a set ourselves T (then 12 or so) lost interest after the first few design hiccups.   He was interested in having a robot like the one on the front of the box, but not so much in building or programming one.

A year ago we pulled it back out, and the younger girls (then 11 and 13) played with it for a day or two, until I realized they were just building with the Legos, and scooped it back up before the pieces disappeared off into their sets.

Finally, tonight I decided I would give it a try to see if there was something particularly difficult about the instructions, that might have stymied the children's interest, or if I should really give up on the dream of having STEM scholarships ahead.

I dumped out the box, loaded up the software, and started building the initial little vehicles (the instructions walk you slowly from simple vehicles to the big upright, walking, talking robot).

I ran through three or four models, messed up, back-tracked, problem solved, thoroughly absorbed and enjoying myself.  The instructions are picture heavy, as you might expect from Lego, but not difficult, and there is a lot of room for experimentation and adapting of projects, though it doesn't lend itself well to group projects, but is more of a one person, working quietly and alone, type kit.

A couple of the children did join me at the table (my oldest even looked in for a minute, mumbling about how he really should build that thing once and for all), and I thought maybe there might be a spark of interest in one of them.  But it turned out, they just couldn't stand the chaos I had created by dumping the parts and pieces out all over the table, and once they had organized it all...

… they wandered away again, without even a backward glance.  The kit is just fine, if a little expensive, it just happens that when it comes to engineering, I have a pack of project managers.

Maybe they could clean the closets.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Prom

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a large group of homeschoolers in possession of a gym, must be in want of a prom.

"There's nothing I love better than," said Mr. Bingley.
"You might find their society somewhat savage," replied Darcy.
"Homeschool manners? I find them charming."

Okay, I admit it's not exactly Jane Austen being quoted above...much in the same way that a homeschool dance isn't exactly like a prom.  But then...

… I don't have much to compare it to.  The private boarding school where I attended high school didn't allow dancing, much less proms.  So, when we moved from Tiny Town, Montana to Big City, Montana (known to the rest of the world as Small Town, USA) just as the kids were reaching their teen years, and realized our local homeschool association held not just one, but two yearly dances...

… I wasn't sure I was on board.  That is until I witnessed one.  I'm sure homeschool proms are different across the country, but in our area the homeschool seniors pick the theme for the spring dance (the fall dance has traditionally been a masquerade).  Parents decorate...

 … and chaperone...

… and younger siblings act as servers, so it's really a family affair...

… with a dinner for the teens...

… and a photo booth (obviously) for those obligatory awkward prom pictures…

… oh, and dancing.  There is dancing - kind of a strange mix of waltzing and swing, country line and contra.  And just like that, we're back to Pride and Prejudice (only not quite) which is what I was thinking today, as I watched the kids practice...

… because that's the other thing - in our area, the teens get together once a week to practice for these dances, too.  The Man of the House (who went to public school) was genuinely tickled when I told him they were practicing the Footloose dance, today.  He was horrified though, to find they've turned it into a country line dance...

… apparently he was thinking of Kevin Bacon...

… but that would be much less like a homeschool dance.

It's great to be a homeschooler.