Friday, February 27, 2015

Weekly Wrap-up: Robots

This week, we explored one of Monkey's big interests-Robots!

There's tons of books at the library about Robots, but we picked these:
He wrote a 4 page story about a man discovering a robot lab full of all kinds of robots and he work on making his own robot using Mindstorms, inspired by watching Battlebot robots on YouTube:

As much as he loves Legos, he doesn't play with the Lego Mindstorms much. He's made a few simple robots, but I think he gets frustrated with the sensors being glitchy and programming that takes him a while to understand. He wants to build a 'REAL' robot. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to do that and it seems pretty unrealistic, when you think about supplies needed and expertise needed for wiring and programming.

We were supposed to check out a new homeschool class about robotics this week, but it got cancelled last minute, so we will have to wait until it is rescheduled. I'm not sure about driving 40 minutes for a class...but we'll see whether he likes it or not. If it's something where he can really build some robots, it might be worth it!
Weekly Wrap-Up

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Choosing Homeschool vs. Avoiding Public School

For many, the decision to homeschool is one they had figured out well before the kids were school-aged.  They actively chose to homeschool over sending their children to public or private school, from the start. For us, however, ours was a choice that came after school just made our son miserable, for years.  So, while we chose to homeschool, it wasn't the definitive choice of someone who believed homeschool was the better option. It was more of a choice of avoiding public school and trying out an alternative. 

After a little over a year of teaching Monkey at home, we can honestly say we are so happy with this decision and it seems to really work for Monkey. I love homeschooling (despite the difficult days of trying to keep his attention when all he wants to do is play around, or days where he's frustrated to the point of tears because he's getting so many math problems wrong). 

So now our daughter (Bunny) wants to be homeschooled.  She has actually done quite well in public school and has no learning issues and minimal social issues (I think just being a girl comes with having 'girl drama' with social relationships, in any setting!). She eagerly does her homework, does well on tests, thinks of her teachers fondly, enjoys being with other kids (she is the lone extrovert in our family), and enjoys the performances, assemblies, and school spirit activities that go along with school. So when she says she wants to be homeschooled, I hesitate to take her out of an environment that has worked so well for her. I don't think it's perfect, and she has had some issues over the years, but not to the point that Monkey did. 

Am I ready to join the camp of 'actively choosing to homeschool over public school'? 

So now we come to a choice again. Our reasons for homeschooling, have not changed and they would apply equally to her, yet this time, if we choose to homeschool her, we will be actively choosing homeschooling rather than avoiding public school. I know many people are passionate that homeschool is the only way to go, and they would never consider any other option, but I'm not one of those people. I think public school can be a fine option, although I do believe it's not perfect and has a its drawbacks, especially with the increased emphasis on testing, and increasing incidence of violence and bullying.  

Do I feel that confident enough that homeschooling has enough benefits that would outweigh the benefits of being in school? 

I think I can say yes, but I'm nervous about it. We would probably start in the fall, even though she wants to start this spring. I don't know if I'm quite ready for both being home with me, yet at the same time,
  • I look forward to having them both on the same schedule, without the constraints of school schedules and assignments. 
  • I look forward to Bunny having time to devote to her creative writing projects that she rarely has time for when she has all her school homework.
  • I look forward to spending more time with her and bonding with her the way I have with Monkey.
  • I look forward to field trips with both kids.
With one foot in the homeschool world and one foot in public school, I feel like having both kids homeschooled is yet another big leap of faith, a big plunge into the unknown...not as scary as the first time with Monkey, yet still a little scary to be completely cut off from the bus-stop chatter, the school-sponsored events, and essentially the community that is the majority in this town. 

Weekly Wrap-up: Aerodynamics and Chinese New Year

We took a break from Ancient History and did a unit on aerodynamics this week. I don't have a science curriculum we are following, I'm just going with topics that Monkey has expressed an interest in. So for any topic, I take out books from the library, look up videos on line, and do web searches for other ideas homeschoolers used for that topics, sometimes using lapbooks, or experiments, etc. I don't know how people homeschooled before the internet age!

Unfortunately, aerodynamics wasn't such a common homeschool topic for elementary-aged kids... There was a lot about airplanes and flight, so I used some of that, but Monkey wasn't so much into types of airplanes or the history of flight, he was mostly interested in the science of it, but a lot of the stuff I found on aerodynamics was too advanced, so I had to piece together an assortment of ideas. We ended up using a  Bill Nye video on Flight, some books from the library (including Up, Up, and Away: The Science of FlightAerospace Engineering and the Principles of Flight) and did some demos/experiments on Bernoulli's principle.

Of course, making paper airplanes and experimenting with how they flew based on wing shape/size was part of our hands-on learning, and boy, did they have fun with this! They got quite a collection of paper airplanes(this is less than half of what they made):

Because Chinese New Year was this past week, we also decided to add that to our studies. This was very last minute but I pulled together this Chinese New Year unit study. I'll have to plan more in advance next year. These are the decorations they made for the house, as I reviewed the names of the animals in Chinese and introduced them to the written characters (so far, most of our Chinese lessons have only covered speaking/listening, not writing/reading). They drew pictures of animals, but not using the 'how to draw' link from what I planned for the unit study:

We also made homemade dumplings, one of the traditional foods eaten for the New Year celebration, on New Year's Eve:
Weekly Wrap-Up

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Last Minute Chinese New Year Unit Study

Well, Chinese New Year is suddenly upon us, faster than I realized.

I wanted to include the holiday as part of our homeschool studies, but wasn't on top of things the past couple weeks, and now here we are, the new year almost upon us, and I'm scrambling to pull something together.

I stopped by the library today to see if I could pick up some books, but there was only 1 book left about Chinese New Year! (This is what happens when I wait until the last minute to get materials!) Thank God for the internet, though!

So, on super short notice, this is what I came up with, covering social studies, math, science, cooking, foreign language and art.
  • Discovering China - Chinese New Year Video: 

  •  The Emperor Who Built the Great Wall - e-Book by Jillian Lin(mention in my previous post), that tells the history of the first Emporor of China (and how China got its name).  Available on Amazon for $2.99, but for the first 2 days of the new lunar new year, February 19-20, it will be free! 
  • Western and Chinese New Year's Celebrations  - This was the only book left at the local library about Chinese New Year. It's got way more than Chinese New Year, but we'll read the parts that are relevant, and maybe also inspired to find out how other cultures celebrate their new years.
  • Homemade dumplings (this is a basic pork filling, but uses pre-made wrappers), with homemade wrappers with my dad's dough recipe. We'll tie in math here, probably making a 2/3 or 1/2 portion of this recipe:
6 cups flour
2 ½ cups water
½ tsp salt

Mix, let sit, knead some more. Using a Kitchen-Aid mixer with dough hook makes this super easy! 
Here's a video that includes how to make the dough.
  • Draw Chinese zodiac animals - Cute Step-by-Step printouts for art and foreign language, I'll have the kids label them with the Chinese words for each animal.
  • Chinese calendar - This is a more in-depth description of the Chinese lunisolar calendar, but alot of this will be too complex. To incorporate science,  I'll focus on the orbit of the moon, the solstices and equinoxes, and tilt of the earth in relation to seasons. 
And of course, lucky money in red envelopes for the kids!

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop

Sunday, February 15, 2015

"Once Upon a Time in China..." Series by Jillian Lin

These look like such a great series of e-books coming out! Each book tells the story of a famous figure in Chinese history. We love using living books to study history and culture, rather than textbooks, because textbooks are so dry! These look to be a wonderful addition to any collection of living books on China.

Jillian Lin has one book available on Amazon, and a series of upcoming books. You can find out which ones at: I signed up for her mailing list and got the second book ("Miracle Doctor") free. It was such a delightful read, telling the story in an exciting and 'storybook' manner, perfect for elementary-aged kids. Honestly, there's SO much of Chinese history and legend that I don't know (which is pretty sad, since I'm Chinese), and I think this is a great way to learn. At the end of a story there are additional facts, plus a mini-quiz.  We'll be adding these to our homeschool resources! It will be especially great because we'll be covering Ancient China at some point in the next few months.

Weekly Wrap-up: Right-brained Spelling and Living Math Books

This is my first weekly wrap-up post, linking up with WeirdUnsocializedHomeschoolers' Weekly Wrap-up.

This past week was my first week incorporating what I've been learning about right-brained learners.  I finished reading Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World, where I learned SO much about ADD and right-brained learners. With all this new-found knowledge, I attempted to incorporate a little of what I learned, including some Brain Gym exercises, and a new strategy for spelling (which Monkey has always struggled with).

The method we tried was for him to NOT try to remember the words phonetically or through memorizing sound combination rules, but to write it in a bright color and have him stare at it, then picture it in his head with his eyes closed, then 'read' off the letters, both forwards and backwards. Our words were 'sympathetic', 'temperature', 'opinion', and 'neighbor'.  Honestly, I was a bit skeptical that this would work, especially the spelling it backwards, but I was FLOORED when he was able to spell it backwards perfectly, on the first try! Then, spelling it forwards was easy! We did this a few times throughout the week and he was able to retain the spelling. Now, I will be using this method for all his spelling work.

We also took a break from our usual math routine (Singapore 5B, Singapore Math's Challenging Word Problems, and Life of Fred), and went with just exploring with some living math books:

I've always known Monkey hated math drills and repetitive problems, and I learned from reading about right-brained children that this is because he is a 'whole-to-part' learner, learning big concepts better than learning how to sequentially solve a problem. So we read from each of the above books, and explored all kinds of topics, such as exponents, the binary number system, and mobius strips, and, tying into our Ancient History theme, how ancient civilizations used the moon, sun and stars, and angles to tell dates/times, and how trigonometry was used to determine land area and boundaries of non-rectangular field! It was SO much fun.  Monkey still loves Life of Fred, and we're still going to use it, (as well as Singapore for more practice), but it was a nice break from the usual frustrations he has with math. We'll continue to include these books in our weekly math work, mixing it in with our old math material.

In Ancient History, we covered the Epic of Gilgamesh, Stonehenge, and finished up the early Mesopotamia civilizations(e.g. Sumerians, Indus Valley), using Mystery of History Vol .1, and Story of the World and Usborne Encyclopedia of World History. For writing, we've been using IEW's Ancient History, which has been a great way to reinforce his Ancient History reading. However, I don't feel a ton of excitement over Ancient History from Monkey. He does the reading and writing, but just isn't captivated by this. Next week, we're going to take a break from history and study aerodynamics (his choice) for science.

Weekly Wrap-Up

Friday, February 13, 2015

Homeschool Stereotypes

I'll admit, before we homeschooled, I probably had some pre-conceived notions of what a 'typical' homeschooler would be like. It was a vague idea, and not necessarily insulting in any way, but I pictured a Caucasian Christian family with lots of kids, living in some rural area. Homeschooling really wasn't on my radar, but as I've now become 'one of them', I'm a lot more aware of the stereotypes that have been built up over the years about homeschoolers, and sadly, there's a lot of negativity surrounding it. It really upsets me when I hear judgmental comments based on stereotypes, whether it's about race, homeschooling, religion, gender, parenting style, ANYTHING!

The most common ones are socially awkward kids or religious fundamentalists.  I have to say, those probably make up a pretty small segment of the homeschooling population.  As I've encountered more and more homeschoolers, whether in person or in the virtual world, I've found such a variety in the homeschool world - religious (and not just Christians, but Jews, Hindus, new-age spiritual, and more) and secular, gifted and those with special needs, bouncing off the walls and quiet/shy, Caucasians, Asians, African-Americans, bi-racial, parents with Ph.Ds and parents who didn't graduate high school and everything in between,  unschoolers and online schoolers, conservatives and liberals, wealthy and struggling, single parents, working parents, Creationists and evolutionists, city dwellers and farmers, etc.  Far from being an isolated mono-culture, it encompasses such a wide range, that stereotypes really have no basis.

Are homeschooled kids socially awkward? I'm sure there are some. But there's also socially awkward kids in public school! Homeschooling doesn't MAKE kids socially awkward.

A recent jab at homeschoolers was the claim that homeschoolers are anti-vaccine. Are there homeschoolers who are anti-vaxxers? Sure! But there's also anti-vaxxers in public school (using various exemption laws).

Is there potential for neglect or abuse in homeschool? Yes, but there's a lot of neglected and abused kids in public school too.

Are homeschooled kids sheltered? Maybe some, but I would argue that more often, they have a broader understanding of the world than a lot of public schooled kids who spend 35 hours a week inside a building with only kids their same age. If anything, the sheltering is from the media-influence pop culture full of alcohol, sex, drugs, unrealistic ideals for beauty, which probably even some public school parents would like their kids to be sheltered from.

Are they isolated?  Maybe a few, but there's plenty of kids in public school, who, despite being surrounded by people all day, are internally isolated and lonely. Most homeschoolers are not actually *at home* all day long. They are at co-ops, extracurricular activities, meeting up with friends, attending classes, and going on field trips throughout the week.

With the increasing number of homeschoolers in our country, I hope this will be the beginning of the end of homeschool stereotypes.  Just like I don't want to be judged for being Chinese, or a woman, or a Christian, or a working mom, I don't want to be judged for being a homeschooler.

Monday, February 9, 2015

"Fresh Off the Boat" TV series

I'm certainly glad to see Asians represented in the media, but at first, I was apprehensive. First, Eddie Huang's memoir was certainly atypical of the Asian American experience.  This is not a 'tiger mom',piano-playing childhood, it was alot of violence, drugs, partying, gangs, rap-music, cursing, etc. Yes, there was certainly relatable moments-feeling ostracized at school and the bullying...but in general, the book and Eddie's life wasn't something I could relate to. So I worried about the TV show, Of course, being on TV, it had to be cleaned up, and also because it portrayed the younger years, it would avoid some of the more 'rough' parts, including the rough parts about his dad (the TV dad is soft compared to the dad portrayed in the book).

That being said, after the first 2 episodes, I can say, I think it can do well, and it even made me laugh out loud. I haven't watched sitcoms in quite a while, and when I do, I find them overly-contrived, forced, and unnatural. I was a bit disappointed after the first episode, and it made me cringe at times because it seemed too over-the-top, but once I embraced the 'over-the-top' antics, I thought it was laugh-out-loud funny!

The title of the second episode "Home, School, Home-school", admittedly, made me a little nervous. Not only was I now worried about Asian Americans being misrepresented, but also homeschooling! But I really do know so many Asian moms who made their 'A' students do extra tutoring programs outside of school and workbooks at home, that it was spot on! It's not really 'homeschool', as I do still think that a huge majority of Asians would never consider REMOVING their kids from school (at least not first generation Asians),

As the series continues, I hope this can really be a show that will launch Asians into the 'norm' of our culture. There's been so many blog posts and articles about this, there are so many expectations, and so many misgivings. I don't know how it is going to be received by non-Asians. Will they be offended ("Are you all sisters??", celebrating Cs on the report card)? Will they now form a NEW stereotype of Asians? Only time will tell, but I hope it will open the dialogue for more understanding of Asian culture.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Gifted? ADD? Right-Brained? Visual-Spatial Learner?

I've never really liked labels, because it gives people some kind of pre-conceived idea of a person, without really emphasizing the individual, but I've discovered that in some ways, having a category to fit into helps to make sense of the individual's characteristics, and to learn how to connect, teach, and understand them.

Recently, we've been discovering a lot of great resources that might help us understand Monkey's learning style better. He has always struggled with focus/distraction. It would take him hours to do simple homework in kindergarten. It wasn't that he didn't know how to do it, he would just lose focus so easily! It was infuriating. This went on each year until we pulled him out to homeschool, assuming that, now that he has PLENTY of time to get the work done, he'd finally have more free time to explore other interests.  He has always been very analytic and understood concepts at an early age, and he was always eager to jump into bigger and more advanced projects, wanting to learn multiplication before he learned addition, or wanting to build a robot, without understanding electricity, or wanting to create a Minecraft mod, without learning how to program. He'd understand math concepts, yet get a lot wrong because of simple arithmetic mistakes or just copying errors. He had trouble reading at first, really not understanding how to 'sound out the words.' And his spelling was....well, creative??


In school, he would space out and daydream. He claimed it was because he was bored and already knew the material, so his mind wandered. This got him in trouble more than once.  So we knew that in some ways, he needed more of an academic challenge.  At the same time, he also was a somewhat delayed reader, and has always had trouble with spelling, capitalization/punctuation, reading aloud, organizing his thoughts on paper.  He tested high when testing for the gifted program at school, so we read up on giftedness, and learned that asynchrony is common in gifted kids, as one area develops faster than others. We read about how oftentimes, gifted kids have similar characteristics as ADD kids, because they are bored.


But after a year of homeschooling, speeding up the academics so he doesn't get bored didn't seem to make a difference in terms of his focus. It would take him 2 hours to do an assignment that should take 30 minutes.  We tried silence, we tried music. We tried couches, we tried tables and chairs. We gave him something to 'fiddle' with in his hands, and we tried having nothing in sight. He could just lose focus! After seeking some advice, we started looking into Inattentive ADD. He certainly fit most of the descriptions of ADD! But we felt he wasn't a severe case, and we don't want to medicate him, so we didn't look into getting him diagnosed officially, but I've still be reading up on how to adjust the teaching, the material and the environment to address the situation as if he has ADD. Just changing my mindset from 'You just aren't even trying hard', to 'I know this is really difficult for you to focus on this' was a huge game-changer for me. Realizing that his brain may not be producing the right chemicals to keep his attention made me more sympathetic rather than frustrated with him. I got some great insights at Learning-Abled Kids, which has a section specifically on homeschooling, as well as so many other resources.


And THEN, someone else mentioned that he sounds 'right-brained'. I had no idea what that meant. The Right Side of Normal was recommended as a great resource, so I started reading up. The descriptions fit like  T! Whole-to-part learning, vivid imagination, loves to build, global (rather than sequential) thinker...everything began to make a lot of sense. So now I'm devouring all the info I can about right-brained thinkers and how teaching them is different from the typical teaching methods in schools, which is geared much more toward left-brained thinkers(spelling tests, math drills, phonics). The difficulty with spelling, math facts, and reading makes sense now, as does the desire to learn algebra or build a robot.

Visual-Spatial Learner? 

As I read one of the articles in the Right Side of Normal page, I found that another author had previously categorized certain types of learners that have similar patterns as 'Right-brained' people as 'Visual-Spatial Learners'.  This is a term I had heard, but pretty much ignored.  A great homeschooling blog that I follow, Eclectic Homeschoolers, had quite a few posts about Visual-Spatial Learners, with curriculum suggestions, and I had pretty much ignored every post, because I didn't think it was relevant to my son! Well, now that I realize that 'Visual-Spatial' has the similar characteristics as 'Right-brained', I am combing through all her articles about what she uses for her Visual-Spatial learners.

So, what is he???

Maybe none of the above, maybe a little of each, maybe ALL of the above....we just know he is still our little Monkey, and now we know how to address some of his differences. Well, we're learning how...It's a HUGE relief, and an open door, to finally realize that he is not alone, and WE are not alone as parents trying to teach with these differences. As much as I don't like the idea of labels, it certainly has allowed us to find the resources we need to address our concerns.