Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

She blinded me with SCIENCE!

Last week was a busy one. Monday's destructive storm led us to discuss and research rainbows. This was the storm rolling in about three hours before it pummeled my car with hail.

Here comes...The Nothing.

I wanted to post pics of the hundreds of dents in my car but I can't seem to get the lighting right. Insurance is going to cover it once we can afford the deductible. Until then, my car will look like it was attacked by toddler-sized vikings wielding tiny war hammers.

We spent a lot of time playing our favorite board game Monopoly Junior (great for learning math and reading). It's true that my goal is to unschool but I still tend to think of our activities in terms of what curriculum subjects they cover. It feels like a weakness sometimes, but it takes time to unlearn the public school system's definition of education. Kylie still has the option to choose what she wants to learn for the day. She always wants to "play school", so that's what we do. Obviously, it's nowhere near the rigid structure of an actual classroom. If she loses interest in something I ask her if she wants to do something else. Sometimes she refocuses on what we are doing, other times she chooses a different activity. Sometimes she chooses to torment Molly.

I see your Siamese and raise you $20.
We even had a third player this week. Of course I tend to question my sanity when I find myself playing childrens' board games with plastic toys Polyethylene-Americans.

Quinn? It's your turn. What are you looking at?

Back in September I setup the telescope to take a gander at Jupiter since it was so close (only 398 million miles). Kylie was stoked about the whole thing. She wanted to look at the moon too of course. With Jupiter and three of it's moons clearly visible in the eyepiece, I let her take a look. Her response was unexpected. She pulled away quickly with a look of fear on her face, "I don't want to look at it anymore." I asked her what was wrong, but she said that she just didn't like it. It seemed to give her a case of the heebie jeebies. I guess the transition from seeing a point of light in the sky to seeing a planet with three moons around it was too much for her. The moon was a big hit though. She wants to look at it all the time now.

Our exploration with the telescope led to more questions about space. She's beginning to learn the order of the planets, and yes I included Pluto. I grew up in a 9-planet solar system and I don't recall boarding a spacecraft and traveling to another star system since then.

Every time she walks up to my desk she picks up our handheld GPS (used for geocaching) and starts tinkering with it, so I finally started to explain satellites to her. This video was very helpful in an entertaining B-movie kinda way. This one however was "boring", but I recommend it because it just looks cool to have it up on your monitor when someone walks into the room. Finally, we had a brief lesson demonstrating how small we really are compared to other stars. She's still trying to wrap her head around the fact that our sun is a star, but she'll get it.

Friday was another Creature Teachers for Tots day. This time the theme was Australia. We saw a Brush-tailed Kangaroo named Cricket, a Sugar Glider, a Blue-Tongue Lizard and a Parrotlet named Blueberry. She also brought two Pacas (again from South America) because she likes them so much. Blueberry was my favorite. Parrotlets are basically miniature parrots that can learn to talk and everything. They're about the size of a small parakeet. The strap around Kylie's neck has a pouch at the end of it containing a sugar glider.

I can kill you with my brain. -Blueberry
The other animals would not cooperate for photos, so I didn't get any good ones. Cricket kept fleeing in terror, slamming herself into chairs and walls so they had to put her back in her carrier (poor thing). The sugar glider would not look at the camera and seemed hell-bent on escaping. I tried desperately to get a shot of the lizard's blue tongue, but no luck. The kids still loved the guinea pigs the most.

A split second before Blueberry attempted to remove my hand.
We finished the week with learning about volcanoes at church on Saturday and a Greek Festival on Sunday. The sermon wasn't about volcanoes. Kylie just decided that she wanted to learn "more science" while we waited in the coffee bar. "Something underwater" she said. I thought undersea volcanoes might be cool, which led to better videos featuring Mount St. Helens.

The Greek Festival was a bit disappointing. It seemed like your basic church picnic. But it's ok. I got to try "flaming cheese" and re-visited lamb (which was much better when I was a kid for some reason). I guess Greek food just isn't for me.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Rodents Aplenty

This week we were in animal overload. My mother-in-law was out of town so we were taking care of her cats (four I think...only one of them ever comes out to visit). Thursday we visited our local dairy farm for the $5 tour. We learned a lot. Specifically that the farm has more than 1000 dairy cows and that our local area has nearly 20,000. They even have their own store in town that sells dairy treats. The tour included a sample of their ice cream. The butter pecan (or old-people ice cream as my oldest daughter would say) is excellent. Kylie tried the cookies'n'cream, but was too in love with one of the farm's rabbits to care about the ice cream.

Kylie handled this chicken like she had been doing it all her life.
She provided Coco the retired horse with
some tasty carrots and much brushing.
The hay ride was very interesting. Did you know that they
put maple syrup on the hay to make it taste better for the cows?
Of ourse the rabbit stole the show.
Kylie didn't want to leave.
I got her away from the rabbit long enough to help feed
the babies.
We missed seeing a calf being born by one hay ride. They said that their record for baby bovines (because they aren't cows until they are pregnant) in one day is 15. We will definitely go back for the full tour. Maybe we'll get lucky and get to watch one being born.

Today we went to our favorite library for a special animal visit. The price seemed high at $30, but that price includes four Friday "classes", each with animals from different parts of the world. Today was the first Friday with animals from South America and a special surprise from Africa. Of course we didn't know this prior to the visit. When we first arrived I was worried because the lady setup a small pen and started putting Guinea Pigs in it. I was like, "Thirty dollars for this?" It must have been one of those under-promise-over-deliver techniques, because I was floored when she brought out the African Porcupine. The looks on the faces of all of the mothers were priceless as they scrambled to pull their children back from the pen. I couldn't stop smiling. It was really cool to see one up close and touch it.

The list of animals included: a Patagonian Cavy, a Paca (only 3 days old), the African Porcupine, multiple Guinea Pigs and a dove that had been rescued. The guinea pigs were actually genius because it gave the kids something to cuddle while they looked at the less cuddly animals. We were very impressed with the program. The lady running it actually keeps all of the animals at her home. I forget what she called it, but she's actually in the process of some kind of special project with endangered species. The Paca is one of them (but not officially).

I asked Kylie to ham it up for me. I just couldn't get over
the baby porcupine.
Ahh, yes. The rarely seen passionate kiss shared between
an African Porcupine and a Paca.
What a great week! The unschool year is off to an amazing start!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Friday, May 14, 2010


...not with Kylie, but with the fact that I never set aside time to post.

Anyway, here's # 2 in the comic series.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Let's Do This

Yesterday, Kylie had her first practice for swim team. I absolutely had to be there. She has come a long way from one year ago, but I wasn't sure if she was ready for the team environment. They are required to be proficient in the basic strokes, some of which Kylie is only beginning to learn. The instructors were convinced she could do it and Kylie was certainly convinced that she could do it, so I suspended my reservations and let her follow her ambition.

It's difficult to express in words how inspiring it is to watch her learn something she loves. She wasn't there to play in the pool. She was there to listen to a swim coach that she had never met…to listen to his lessons and to follow his lead with perfect concentration. She never says that she "can't do it" or that "it's too hard". She thrives on the challenge to get better at everything she does. It's this drive, this love of learning that keeps me on the homeschooling path. I want her to succeed and fail on her own terms.

Up next, I will share what I have learned about unschooling (yep, that's the direction we're headed). If you've heard negative things about it, please hold your objections until I tell my side of the story. Until then, here's the first episode of my stick-figure homeschool comic inspired by XKCD. I'm only using MS Paint, so bear with me as I learn how to draw.

Friday, February 5, 2010

State of my Child Address

Friends, neighbors, homeschoolers...

...ok, so this post is just to catch up on a few points of interest because I have been too lazy busy to post anything for the past few days.


We have a total of 5 kills finds now.  Not a lot, but they were all fun.  We found a couple in the Metro Center Mall area on Saturday and then had a go at the Riparian Preserve on Sunday.  The cache we found at the preserve is our favorite so far because it was a coffee can (see photo below) which is big enough to hold cool stuff like small toys and travel bugs.  We traded a couple of new McDonald's toys for a Nickelodeon toy and I grabbed a travel bug that is from Alaska.  I will be moving the travel bug to a cache in Yuma when we go caching there next week.

Kylie and Michelle raiding the cache


We established our first container garden in our backyard.  We started very small in order to determine if we can actually grow anything.  If we do well, we will expand to larger gardens.  I moved the rocks out of the way, set up the container box and poured in the soil.  Kylie helped me break it up.

A shovel and dirt...only the best toys ever!

Later, Kylie and Michelle added some plants and veggies we picked up at the nursery along with a few sprouts that finally appeared in the little greenhouse kit thingy that they had been working on for the past few weeks.  I know that we bought strawberries, chives, bell peppers and lettuce.  I can't remember what kind of flowers those are.  I think the small flower pot in front has catnip in it.  As it turns out, growing the catnip won't be necessary.  A neighborhood cat has already "christened" our garden.  I guess I'll be building some kind of light cage soon to keep the cats out.

For all the Farmville addicts, this is what real plants look like.


I thought I would also mention some "moments of innocence" that Kylie shared with me this past week.

First, we were at a Wendy's drive-thru waiting for Frosties (we love our frosties), and Kylie rolled her window down.  She was talking to a crow that was sitting on a tree branch just outside.  She held out her hand and said, "C'mon birdie.  Come stand on my finger."  She kept calling it and asking it over and over again.  She didn't give up until we finally had to drive forward to grab our order.  It always amazes me how young kids can be so persistent and never seem to be deterred by exercises in futility.  It's just cool.

Later, she asked me to take her to Lala's house (grandma) instead of dropping her off at mom's work.  The drive is long and boring, so I can't blame her for pushing for grandma's house.  I explained that she had to go to mom's work and that I had no choice.  She immediately said, "Yes you do.  Here."  Then she extended her empty hand to me, offering me an invisible "choice".  Then she said, "Take it.  It's a choice."  So I took it and she said, "Now you have one.  Can I go to Lala's?"  Clearly the fact that I defaulted to "having no choice" was as transparent to her as the "choice" she offered to me.  I then proceeded to explain why I had to take her to mom's work instead of using the lame excuse of having no choice.  I love when she helps me realize that I am being lazy with my responses to her.  I think it helps me to be a better parent.

Finally, she recently acquired a pair of binoculars from Culver's.  I was happy that we can finally add them to her pack.  We were on our way to McDonald's (I really need to break that habit) and she was scoping out the area as we drove.  She kept saying things like, "Look at the cars and the mountains and the sky."  Then she said, "Wow!  Look at the sky.  I can see God."  I said, "Really?" and she confirmed it.  I didn't see him myself, but I didn't have the binoculars either.  If she really did see him, those binoculars were a steal for only $5.

Until next time...

Friday, January 29, 2010

Urban Treasure Hunting

Ok, so it's not exactly treasure. In fact, our first find was just a sign-in sheet, but IT WAS SO MUCH FUN! I think Kylie was beginning to doubt me when we couldn't find the first two caches, but you should have seen her eyes light up when I said, "I think I found it!"

After our first three geocachings, I am already noticing that some locations aren't the best spots for kids. Who wants to take their kid on a tour of a dumpster anyway? I don't even want to do that alone. But this one was great. It was an easy location to access, clean and isolated enough that passers-by don't eyeball you like you're looking for trouble.

So far, geocaching has my vote as a great family activity. The excitement of the hunt and finding new places that you may not have even known existed is so much fun.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Retrospect - Week 3

Week 3 can best be described as a complete meltdown. It wasn't a meltdown for Kylie. It was more of a meltdown for me. The activities for week 3 focused on "life on a farm" and "the definition of family". These topics seem simple enough, but the fact that once again I couldn't find any of the recommended books available anywhere finally took its toll on me. Additionally, the limited number of stores that I searched for toy farm animals either had very high priced toys ($3 each) or none at all. I think between my wife and myself, we checked WalMart, Target, Walgreens and Toys 'R' Us. Not a huge list of places, but we have limited time to shop. We couldn’t even find the alternate choice of farm animal stickers. The toy part is my fault, I just wasn't prepared, but the rigidity of the curriculum is becoming a huge problem.

So basically, we did a whole lot of nothing. The meltdown got progressively worse as my own school work piled up and I began my daily exercise routine again. In a nutshell, I really need to focus on time and resource management. I was going to give week 3 another go this week, but our weekend proved to be far too busy for me to prepare properly…again. I need a new plan of attack. I'm glad that this whole thing is a "dry run" to prepare for the real thing. I know that there aren't any perfect rules for when homeschooling should begin. I've just been gauging it on when Kylie would normally begin public school which would be this Fall. My hope is that she would actually be classified as first-grade level when she would normally be starting kindergarten. It's not really a homeschool way to look at it, but it's a big paradigm shift that I am still adjusting to and learning about.

Part of my developing a revised plan has been reviewing homeschooling methods. Since I seem to have fallen into the "school at home" approach more than I wanted to, I have been reading about the other end of the spectrum, "unschooling". What I've read so far seems extreme to me. I don't think it's all bad, but some of it just feels risky. I understand that there are various degrees of unschooling, but some of the more extreme approaches border on neglect in my opinion. Letting your kids choose to play video games and watch TV all day simply because that's what they are into at the moment doesn't seem like education at all. But before any of the great unschoolers out there rip my head of for being ignorant or close-minded, I will admit that some of what I read is very insightful. Allowing a child to choose subjects that they want to learn and sometimes even how they want to learn it makes a lot of sense to me. Kids (all humans actually) are more likely to retain what they learn when they learn it on their own terms. I just think that because we live in a society that primarily consists of products of the public school system, developing some of those same skills along a similar timeline is important in order for the child to relate to his/her peers. Perhaps I will change my mind if we make some friends in the homeschool/unschool community so that we don't feel so isolated. People really do treat you like you are crazy when you tell them that your kid won't be attending a formal school.

Anyway, the primary purpose of this post is to remind you and myself that there will be setbacks and that we can overcome them. I'm not giving up. I'm just finding my way. Kylie is having a blast, so that keeps me going. For the rest of this week we will focus on trips to the library, the park and planning our geocaching…which reminds me. I ordered a handheld GPS unit so that we can start geocaching. If you aren't familiar with it, I think of it as mini-treasure hunting. There is an entire site dedicated to it. Basically, geocachers hide various sized containers in locations all over the world. The GPS coordinates are then provided, and other geocachers use the coordinates to hunt for the containers. Each container has some kind of "treasure" inside. Once you find it, you can take the treasure, sign the visitor log (if there is one) and then leave a new treasure for the next person. The cool part is that these caches are everywhere. I did a search using my zip code and nearly 2500 results popped up. At first I thought we would only do this while on the road with mom, but with that many results, we can go geocaching any time we want. You can learn more at or

I will also work on the new lesson plans for next week. It will most likely be a more eclectic approach.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

Last week we finally made it over to our favorite "park", the Riparian Preserve. If you've never been there before, it's not like your average everyday park. It's more like that secret place (if you grew up in the lower elevations of Arizona) that you would go to when your parents told you to go outside and play. I guess I would qualify as a "free range" kid growing up. For the most part, my mother would kick us out of the house for the day and we would take off for the nearest dry wash or semi-shady urban area. To be fair, my mother always gave us the option of staying indoors to help with chores, but we chose the 115 degree heat (sometimes in bare feet) over the slightly more comfortable swamp-cooler and doing dishes. Of course there is one huge difference between a dry-wash and the Riparian Preserve. The preserve is actually a carefully balanced eco-system that is routinely maintained by loving hands. As an added bonus, the preserve contains the Town of Gilbert Drinking Water Treatment Plant among other cool stuff like the Southeast Regional Library.

The "playground" is rather unique. You won't find swings or monkey bars here. Instead, they have what I would call an abstract concrete castle-like structure that kids (and parents) can climb on. When I was a kid, this would have been a perfect spot for a game of cops and robbers. The rest of the park would have been ideal for adventure games. I had an overactive imagination when I was a kid and I could conjure up stories out of thin air. I would give each of my siblings a role to play. Sometimes I was even nice enough to allow them to choose their own "character". I was the oldest if you haven't figured that out yet. I think I'll stop right there before things get out of hand. I'm already imagining my younger self roaring down the hills and through the brush on my bike pretending it was a horse. Below is a picture of the "castle":

I was also obsessed with treasure hunting (what kid wasn't?), and the dino-dig in the picture below would have been favorite of mine. Of course I would have added other cool stuff for us to dig up, but I think it's cool that they already have built-in "treasures" to find. Any kid that likes dinosaurs will love this spot.

Obviously, since the place is a preserve, you can find numerous desert plants throughout the park. Signs are posted with plant names and information, and there are so many great spots for a picnic that I wouldn't even try counting them all. Kylie wasn't too happy that I asked her to stand in the middle of a bunch of cacti for a picture, but I think it came out well. It's not as crowded as it looks. Plus, the house in the distance reveals the proximity of city life. Which brings me to another excellent feature. You can actually camp overnight in this park. You are required to make a reservation and pay a $30 fee, but I am already considering this as a good way to introduce Kylie to camping. If things don’t go well, our house is ten minutes away!

Next, the observatory. We haven't taken advantage of this great opportunity yet, primarily because my work schedule doesn't allow me to visit when the observatory is open. They allow visitors on Friday and Saturday evenings. The East Valley Astronomy Club runs it. If you have participated in it's operation, please share what you experienced. Eventually we will make time to visit, and when we do I will post the details.

The last two photos are of Kylie's favorite feature (second only to feeding the ducks). By the way, they have rules about feeding the ducks. The yeast in bread is bad for them, so we take one of the approved foods…chicken scratch. There is a feed store/Uhaul rental place on the Northwest corner of Power and Williams Field Roads…I can’t remember the name. I'll add it to the comments if I remember it. You can pick up a good sized bag of chicken scratch for about $2.

Anyway, the photos below are two-halves of a giant snake…I guess it would be called a sculpture. The reason Kylie likes it so much is because over the last few years, we have used it as an obstacle course of sorts. I used to watch a lot of TV, so bear with me. G4 has a show called Ninja Warrior (from Japan). In this show, contestants go up against an intense obstacle course. The race is timed (except for the second to last course which is endurance-based) and at the end of each course is a huge round button that the contestant must hit to stop the clock (assuming they have time remaining). Well, nearly every kid at the park wants to climb up on this snake and run from one end to the other. The first time Kylie tried it, she had some trouble. She was about three and hadn't had much experience with uneven terrain. As you can see, the snake has all kinds of contours and bumps. So when I watched her navigating it, it reminded me of Ninja Warrior. As luck would have it, each end of the snake has a bump near the end. So each time Kylie would reach the end, I would tell her to smack the bump as if it were the timer button. It has turned into a ritual whenever we visit the park. Now that she has it down, I may actually start timing her.

I could go on and on for many more pages about the guided tours, the hiking trails, the different types of birds, the fishing, the biking, etc. Instead, check out their website and go check out the park for yourself. Pack a lunch and take the whole family down. You will easily spend a few hours just wandering around and playing with the kids. This is prime Arizona weather time. Get out there and explore!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Retrospect - Week 2

Week 2 went well. Here are a few things that I learned this week:

1. Bowls are surprisingly useful for just about everything.

2. I don't own enough bowls.

3. It is important to have a place to hang projects that require glue.

4. Cats like glue.

5. The concept of a family tree can be confusing to a 4-year-old.

6. My family tree is more like a forest fire. It disorients people and is nearly impossible to escape.

7. Expo sells low-odor dry erase markers.

8. Too much time in front of a dry erase board with standard markers...wait, what was I saying?

Which reminds me, I figured out that it's a good idea to write some of the lesson plans on the whiteboard ahead of time in order to save time during lessons. It doesn't need to be the entire plan, just some notes on daily assignments so that I don't need to refer to the book every 5 minutes. I'm beginning to understand why some parents have a crate or box containing the daily lesson. Having everything ready to go the day before makes things go much smoother. I probably should have figured this out sooner...I blame the markers.

As I mentioned in Week 1, I wanted to start some kind of mobile home-schooling kit (not to be confused with a mobile-home schooling kit). Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Anyway, here's what I have so far:

It needs some work, but I think it's a good start.

My favorite part is the backpack.  Since Christmas, I have been trying to find the perfect backpack for Kylie.  Why is it that the creators of children's backpacks think that our kids need giant backpacks relative to their size?  Every type that I found seemed to be huge on Kylie., and these were branded Dora, Spongebob, Super Mario...even Barbie.  She's petite, but not a tiny kid.  If I were to put one of them on her and fill it, she would fall over.  To top it off, they want $20 - $25 for a pack that doesn't even fit right.  I had nearly given up on ever finding one that fit her age and size until I stumbled on this beauty at Walmart.  According to the tag, it's an "Accessory Backpack".  I found it with the toiletry kits.  The best part was that it was only $9.  To give you a point of reference as far as size, the red pack of flash cards is the size of a deck of playing cards.  Plus, it's cool is that?

Next, I added Pip-Squeaks Colored Pencils by Crayola.  Also at Walmart, it was a bit pricey at $5, but it came with 18 colored pencils and a sharpener.  After considering the likelihood that the backpack would be left in my truck at least once during the summer, I decided that crayons were a bad idea.  The Arizona sun can melt just about anything you leave in your vehicle.  Crayons don't stand a chance.

The Primary Journal by Mead was also more than I wanted to pay, but I'm probably just getting cheap in my old age.  It was just under $3.  The pages are split into two parts.  The upper half is blank for drawing pictures.  The bottom half is lined for beginning writers and has red lines that "cues students to sit letters on the baseline."

Finally, the flashcards are just a couple from a stash I picked up at Target for $1 apiece.  I can rotate them in and out.  We have letters, simple math, phonics and sight words.  I also picked up some with presidents and the states, but she doesn't like them yet.  Thankfully, mom pitched in the purple water bottle.  Maybe we can get Kylie to drink more water now.  I'm starting a betting pool.  Any takers?

Of course, we also added her Nintendo DS (thanks a lot Santa).  I'll let her keep it in there as long as she doesn't use it exclusively.  For now she only uses the DS about half the time.

So far, I've been able to drive up to an hour without her complaining about being bored or starting the never ending question "where are we going next?"  She'll play with an item for 10-15 minutes and then move on to the next item.  I think that it will continue to work as long as I keep the contents fresh with new stuff.

Here's the best picture I could get of her wearing it.  I've learned not to get between her and the computer unless absolutely necessary.  She was busy helping Dora save mermaids from garbage.  She doesn't get too much time on the computer during the week, so I try to stay out of her way when she gets a chance to play.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Booster Seat Driver

From the time that Kylie was able to speak, she has demonstrated a keen sense of her surroundings, specifically landmarks when we are driving. At first I thought it was limited to a few of her favorite places, but I quickly realized that she had this ability with nearly every place she had ever visited. For the last year or so, I have really gotten a kick out of it because she will tell me when I miss a turn or that I am going the wrong way if I take a different route. She is finally beginning to understand that many routes can be taken to arrive at the same destination. But what she did today just blew me away.

We were on our way back from our almost daily McDonald's routine (I know, I'm a terrible father, but we both dig the playgrounds) and she asked to go to a specific park. The park she described was a dog park that we hadn't gone to in over a year because, well, it’s a dog park and we don't own a dog. The playground is small, but she insisted. I explained to her that we hadn't been there in so long that I couldn't remember where it was. Without hesitation, she told me that she could tell me how to get there.

Now at this point, I am willing to bet that most parents would laugh it off and continue to their original destination, but I was curious. I decided, what the heck? Worst case, I drive around in circles for a bit and then drive home. So I let her navigate. She started by telling me to go straight. Being the cruel great dad that I am, I had to mess with her test her. I kept asking, "Should I turn here?" She would always answer, "No, keep going straight." Finally, she said, "Turn here. Turn that way.", because we are still working on "left and right" she still tends to point out the direction. Well, I couldn't make it easy for her, so I turned in the opposite direction. She got a bit flustered and told me that I went the wrong way. I apologized and made a u-turn, sure that she would be turned around, but she said, "Now go straight." As soon as we could see the railroad tracks she said, "Ok, slow down, it's coming up."

Now, I drive this road a lot. I drive on it multiple times daily. For whatever reason, some of us "tune out" certain things that we consider irrelevant to our daily routines. I honestly had no idea where the park was, but I was sure that it wasn't on this road. But lo and behold, we crossed the railroad tracks and up on the left I saw the sign for the park. She immediately said, "Turn here, it's right there!". I was flabbergasted and couldn't stop laughing. She didn't understand what was so funny.

This probably isn't that amazing. Kids know what they want and they probably catalogue things like locations differently than adults do. But when you have a 4-year-old successfully navigating a road trip for you, it makes you question your sanity.

Know the Law - Addendum

Shortly following my post mentioning the couple in New York that were arrested for failing to register home-schooled kids, I was reading Rational Jenn's blog. She mentioned that it's a bad idea to trust sites such as HSLDA for verification of the laws in your area. Allowing a third-party to translate or summarize the laws in your area increases the chance that you may receive bad information. Considering the stakes, it is imperative that you know this specific corner of law inside and out. Anything less is just asking for trouble. I will admit that I myself still need to read through the Arizona Statutes in order to make sure that I will be in compliance when the time comes for me to register Kylie. I will be reading through them, and if I come across anything specific worth mentioning, I will post it. But please keep in mind that I am not a lawyer and any other third-party may not be either. Even if they are lawyers, they can make mistakes. The point is that we all need to go to the source and do our best to understand the law. It's the only way to be sure.

I recommend visiting and doing your own search for the relevant statutes. I checked it out and I was finally able to find what I was looking for. However, they must have changed their website recently because their FAQ is misleading as to how to perform a search. It asks you to use a link on the main page that doesn't exist (unless my browser doesn't support it for some reason). Anyway, this is how I navigated to the proper area of their site:

1. Go to

2. Roll your mouse over "Legislative Council" on the menu bar just below the banner photo of the capitol building. This will drop down a menu.

3. From the menu select "Arizona Revised Statutes".

4. In the "Search Phrase" box type, "home school". I tried "homeschool" and "homeschooling", but neither of these produced any results. So make sure you have a space between "home" and "school".

5. Click the Search button. This will yield results that I think include the relevant statutes and some that aren't so relevant.

If you happen to find more related statutes, please post your comments here so others can benefit from the time you spent searching.

As Ronald Reagan once said, "Trust, but verify."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Homeschooling Restrictions, Gilbert, AZ

I try not to get worked up about articles like this because the media tends to blow things out of proportion. However, it is still my chosen responsibility to mention such stories when I find them, just in case the story turns out to be accurate. No laws have been passed, but if these types of restrictions are placed on Gilbert homeschoolers, I will certainly consider moving. It would be a shame because I thoroughly enjoy living here, but not at the cost of my freedom of choice.

Board to consider homeschool, online class restrictions

Balloon Starts With "B"

As usual I am falling behind in posts, but I wanted to share last Saturday's adventure.

My wife learned that there was going to be a hot air balloon festival on Saturday.  It just so happens that last week Kylie and I were studying the letter "b".  The festival was a great way to finish off the week while learning a few things about a craft that is often overlooked.

The festival took place in Cave Creek at Rancho Manana (that's manana, as in the Spanish word for tomorrow...I'm just not setup to add the tilde over the "n").  We started with the KTVK Channel 3 balloon.  The guys were just hanging out waiting for things to get started, so I asked for a closer look at the basket, or the "gondola" as the pros call it.  The gondola pictured below is designed to hold 4 passengers plus a pilot.  This makes for a rather cozy ride.

Kylie liked the bumble bee balloons best.  All of the balloons, including the bees, started out lying flat on the ground.  Then each team began to inflate their balloon using a large fan.

Once the team fills the balloon to a certain point, they fire up the burners, heating the air inside of the balloon to give it buoyancy.  Kylie wasn't too sure about the fire.  At first she was concerned for our safety, but she finally decided that as long as we kept our distance we would be fine.

The Spiderman balloon was the most impressive color-wise.  It's red glow was very intense at night.

They ended the show with a skydiving show.  The skydivers wore suits that lit up during their descent.  It was difficult to capture any good pictures, but here are the two best shots.  The first one is of the skydivers directly overhead.  The second photo is of one of the skydivers landing in the sand trap (we were on a golf course).  They sure came in fast!

Kylie is still talking about the show.  I highly recommend a show like this if you find one in your area.  In Arizona, we only have a short time to experience them.  From what I understand, they don't fly very well once the weather gets hot.

If you want a better look at the bumblebee balloons, they have a picture posted on Wikipedia:

Friday, January 8, 2010

Retrospect - Week 1

The first week went reasonably well. We had a few interruptions, but nothing major. I strayed from the plan a few times due to project supplies that I failed to buy and a last minute appointment. Kylie had a great time and every morning she asked if we were going to have class again. She loves sharing the day's activities with her mom when she gets home from work. Kylie also continues to carry on some of the daily lessons for the rest of that day. For example, today we had a scavenger hunt (in the house) for things that start with the letter "b". She did a lot better than I expected. The list included about 20 unique items. Of course one of them was the cat's "butt"…I couldn't really argue. It does start with "b". Later when we were out running errands, she continued to point out things that started with "b". This is exactly the kind of unbridled desire to learn that I hope to maintain.

For the most part, distractions were kept to a minimum. Our cats (Molly and Benjamin), that never show up when you want them to, seemed baffled as to why Kylie and I were spending so much time in a room that was previously reserved for piles of unused items and cat naps. Molly has made it clear that she is also a student and will come and go as she pleases, primarily in the middle of a lesson that requires Kylie's undivided attention. I think it was Wednesday that Kylie gently explained to Molly that she had to wait in the other room until class was over. Molly seemed unimpressed. Today, Kylie's solution was to headbutt Molly until I asked her to stop. It's stuff like this that makes it difficult to discipline with a straight face. Headbutting a cat…who does that?

So far, our biggest challenge has been fine motor skills. In this case, using scissors to cut out shapes and pictures from magazines and worksheets. Overall, I think Kylie did well considering she's never used a pair of scissors before (unless you count the Ken doll incident). She was a little bit frustrated. I helped her by holding the paper for her or showing her a better cutting angle and then she was fine. Another week or two of cutting and she'll be cutting everything in sight. Whose idea was this again?

Finally, I have decided that I need to create a mobile homeschooling kit. It needs to be compact and light, with lots of easy to open pockets. I will need to add some basic art supplies (crayons, paper, etc.), small books and maybe a pair of kid's binoculars or one of those cool collapsing telescopes that all of the movie pirates use. In my opinion, a kit like this is absolutely essential if you spend a lot of time driving around town with the kids or as a backup plan for days that are interrupted by "emergencies" that force you to leave the house in the middle of a lesson. I will let you know what I come up with.

That's it for this week. For those of you waiting with intense anticipation (is there really anyone reading this?), I haven't forgotten about my promise to post photos of the classroom. The truth is that I still have a few items to clear out before it's picture-worthy. I also have a couple of maps that I want to mount on a board that can be moved around. I'm hoping to finish it this weekend. I definitely need to start posting more photos, and I will. I just need to plan better.

Coming soon! Kylie and I will spend a day at one of our favorite places, the Riparian Preserve. We will take lots of pictures and I will give a detailed report.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Princess Parenting

I found this video at and had to share it. I am proud to say that I held my ground last Christmas against the My Little Pony cavalry. I matched the pony gifts with a Bosch toy tool set. Unfortunately, the ponies had a huge headstart from past birthdays and random shopping sprees. I have my eye on a complete Bosch toy workbench that just might even the score.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Know the law

Please don't let this post scare you. This is just an example of what can happen when the law is ignored.

Parents arrested for failing to register home-schooled kids

If you live in Arizona, The Home Education Network of Arizona is a great place to begin learning the laws that affect homeschoolers. I am thankful that Arizona is a very homeschool friendly state.

If you live outside of Arizona, try the HSLDA. They actually have a color-coded map that gives a basic description of the level of regulation for each state. As you can see, New York is heavily regulated which is why this couple had such a bad experience.

Tech Tip #1 - Portable Favorites

As a computer technician, I feel it is my duty to offer helpful computer advice whenever possible. With each tech tip that I post I hope to save you time and/or money. As we all know, both of these resources are in short supply and using them efficiently is essential to success in any endeavor. My tips won't always be tremendously insightful to everyone, but I recognize that not all computer users are created equal. For some, a simple tip can be a big help in making life easier.

Today's tech tip will give you a way to carry all of your favorite Internet links with you. Whether you call them "Favorites" or "Bookmarks", you saved them because you plan on accessing them over and over again. I often find myself at the library or at a friend's house and for whatever reason I want to share a website with someone. Typically it's a site that has a complicated address (which is why I bookmarked it in the first place), so I tell my friend that I will email it to them later. Sometimes I do, but most of the time I forget. Or worse, I send it and it gets lost in their spam folder. I finally decided to carry my list of Favorites with me so that I can share them wherever I am. You can do the same. All you need is a small USB drive and the instructions below.

In case you don't know what a USB drive is, it's a device about the size of a small cigarette lighter (although size and shape vary) that plugs directly into a computer's USB port. You can save files, pictures, music, etc to the USB drive for use on any computer. You may have also heard them called "thumb" drives or "zip" drives. The name really doesn't matter. I just think that USB drive is the most straight-forward description. You can purchase a good size USB drive for $5 - $10 at places like Fry's Electronics, Best Buy or Walmart.

Instructions (assuming you use Internet Explorer as your browser):

1. Insert the USB drive into your computer's USB port. The computer should display a message indicating that it has recognized the drive.

2. Open Internet Explorer.

3. Select "File" from the menu bar at the top.

4. Select "Import and Export" from the list.

5. At the Welcome screen, click "Next".

6. Select "Export Favorites" and click "Next".

7. Select the folder that you want to export. You can choose to export the entire "Favorites" folder if you want to, or you can export a more specific folder. For example, you may have a folder named "Homeschooling Links". I mention this in case you only want to carry certain links with you and keep the more private ones at home. You most likely have links saved for your bank or other private information that you may not necessarily want to share with your friends.

8. Click "Next".

9. Make sure the "Export to a File or Address" is selected, then click the "Browse" button.

10. Click the "Save in" drop-down box and navigate to your USB drive.

11. Click "Save".

12. Finally, click "Finish" and "OK".

If the steps above didn't match what you found on your computer, you may be using a different version of Windows or Internet Explorer. You may need to try it a few times to figure out how to do it with the version you are working with, but the steps should be similar. After completing these steps, you will have a file named "bookmark.htm" saved on your USB drive. From any computer, you can open this file (by double-clicking it) and it will open in Internet Explorer giving you an easy to use menu containing your favorite links. This file can be emailed to a friend, copied to their computer or even imported into their Favorites (with their permission of course).

If you don't want to purchase a USB drive and you have an email account that can be accessed via webmail, you can also email the file to yourself and later access the bookmark file from any computer that has Internet access by opening that email. Additionally, there are many websites that provide a place for you to save your links to (Google "bookmark managers"). I just prefer to avoid the hassle of going to their site, logging in, etc.

There you go! Now you can share that addictive Sudoku site with everyone you meet. Have fun!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ready or Not

Today was our first "official" homeschool day. I had been putting it off because I wanted to be prepared for anything. I have come to realize that it isn't possible. No matter how much I prepare, something will come up that I hadn't considered and I will need to make adjustments on the fly.

For example, I wasn't able to find any of the books suggested by the "Learning at Home" curriculum. I tried Bookman's and my local library. I'm sure I could order them online, but this would be a bad path to take as the cost of books would add up very quickly. Instead, I adapted the curriculum to the objective. After reading the description of each book, I noticed that nearly all of the books were focused on the Fall season. I had to tweak the objective slightly because the curriculum was designed to be started in the Fall. Now that it's Winter, I chose books about Winter instead of Fall. I will most likely need to make similar adjustments in the future.

I've also decided that stocking the classroom is similar to stocking a kitchen's pantry. It isn't necessary to go out and purchase an extensive list of ingredients all at once. Most people buy ingredients as needed based on what a specific recipe calls for. Over time, the pantry fills up with useful ingredients that will most likely be needed for future recipes. A classroom project is just a recipe for learning. Over the past weekend, I purchased the "ingredients" that I needed for this week's "recipe". Eventually I won't need to buy as much stuff every week because I will have already stocked the necessary supplies.

Today went reasonably well. I had a couple of distracting phone calls that I had to take which required me to adjust the plan. I originally had two half-hour classroom sessions with an hour in between for a trip to the park. We skipped the park, went to the library instead (to pick up the books mentioned above), and finished the day with an hour and a half of classroom time. At first I was concerned that Kylie would get bored working in the classroom for that long, but the time flew by and she wanted to keep going after the lessons ended.

My point is, if you are trying to design the "perfect" evironment, system or plan prior to getting started...relax. Figure out what you need for the first week, layout a basic plan and then just let it happen. Getting started is a great feeling. If you make mistakes, brush off the glitter, glue and crayon shavings and make corrections for the next week. Remember, this should be fun!