Tuesday, June 5, 2012

It Takes a Community

Our eclectic schooling year is drawing to a close. I have so many thoughts to share on the matter and will be spilling those out over several posts over the next few days/weeks.

Have we met our home school goal for the year? 100% YES! The goal was to give Iris a year off to re-group and be ready to head back to school for third grade. She is ready. Yesterday she declared that "private and public school is both better than home school". Of course, her exact reasoning yesterday was because then other kids would be there to answer the questions I ask, not just her. Ha! But honestly, in all ways, she is ready. She has grown so much this year, socially and emotionally.

I would probably be more sad about leaving home school behind, but honestly? It wasn't all it was cracked up to be and I am ready to be done. I do love almost all aspects of it, but I never found that elusive "community" in the home schooling world. I feel like dealing with the awful mess of being booted from the homeschooling group back in the Fall really shattered my spirit and eliminated any hopes I had of having people in the home school world really becoming our community. Our personal experience from participating in the handful of local home school events is just that people weren't necessarily that open or welcoming. I have enjoyed pretty much every part of schooling Iris, but I have felt like we existed in a bubble this year, and that just isn't that fun.

We did find a community this year, however, in the form of Eloise's public school. Just yesterday Iris and I participated in a fundraiser run at the school and it was really amazing to be a part of the community coming together and supporting each other. I especially love that Iris has been embraced as part of the school even though she isn't a student there (yet!). It has been difficult for me to find time to give to the school in ways that I would like to be able to and if/when Iris becomes a student there next year, I hope to have time to volunteer a lot more. I have to say, if Iris is forced to go to a different public school next year, it's going to be really, really hard to have to split my attention. It is amazing how much time and, well, money, we give to Eloise's school and to think I would have to do that times two is a little overwhelming. But, hey! Two communities is good! If the families and teachers at the new school are even half as awesome as the ones at the current school, we'll be doing just fine.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs

Yesterday Iris and I had the great fortune to be included in the CVA field trip to see the King Tut exhibit at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. If I am being completely honest, I should mention that going in to this field trip I basically knew nothing about King Tut. It crossed my mind in the days leading up to the field trip that Iris and I should do some research on what we might see at the exhibit, but we didn't. We have been super busy with school (and play!) and I thought, you know, seeing all of this first hand will spark an interest to learn more when we are done. I think my tactic worked and we will be searching for books and movies to expand our knowledge of King Tut and Egyptian history.

The field trip was very well organized. We were sent tickets in the mail with our names on them and we had to line up outside the Science Center 15 minutes before our ticketing time. Then we shuffled in to the center, waited in line again, shuffled through that one and waited again before being let inside the little holding area for the exhibit. After a quick movie and a review of the do's and dont's of the exhibit we were let inside. The exhibit is divided in to rooms. I don't remember all of them, but the first several were about Egyptian history and the kings, their queens, where they lived, the artifacts and statues that have been discovered. Then we went in to a room that contained jewelry, which fascinated Iris quite a bit. After that it was time to make our way through the rooms of King Tut's tomb.

We walked through the exhibits of each separate room. We saw one objects such as one of King Tut's beds, a small wooden boat that was to become an actual sized boat in the after-life, gold finger and toe covers, and the burial mask that was placed over the mummy. There was an amazing video that showed the multiple layers of King Tut's coffin, as well. 

It was quite amazing to know that this was all thousands of years old and lost in a tomb until the 1920's. Of course, it's a wee bit creepy, as well, but I guess we're all voyeurs, right? 

After walking through the gift shop (King Tut masks anyone?) there was one more small room that held a replica of King Tut's body and some information about tests that were performed on the corpse in order to understand more about how he died . . . and how he might have lived. 

I would highly recommend this exhibit to anyone even remotely interested in King Tut and kids at least of reading age who don't get bored easily. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Public School Field Trips

One of the many special things about Eloise's kindergarten class is that they take a boatload of field trips. The field trips are often exhausting for the chaperones-- and I should know, I have chaperoned over half of them! Even though navigating certain situations with 20+ kiddos can be stressful, like getting them all on a city bus and heading to the Seattle Art Museum, it usually ends up being quite a bit of fun.

The most recent field trips I have chaperoned have been to the Woodland Park Zoo, the mounted patrol horse stables at Westcrest Park and low tide at Constellation Park. Truth be told, I often jump on the opportunities to chaperone because that means Iris gets to go, too. Iris has had the opportunity to do things this year we might not otherwise have done, like see Frog and Toad at the Seattle Children's Theatre and meet the horses of the mounted patrol.

Our trip to WPZ happened several weeks ago and it was a special trip for the kindergartners as their "big buddies" in the 6th grade class came with us. That meant I was in charge of four kinders, four 6th graders and Iris. Mostly the 6th graders didn't really need to be wrangled, but I did have to know where all nine of my kids were at all times. Whew! Luckily we didn't lose anyone, at least not for very long! I was very surprised to see how many of the big kids carried things like ipods and Kindle Fires and other gadgets like that. It's been a loooooong time since I was in 6th grade! We navigated a few of the zoo exhibits, mostly running by everything as we had a very small window of time to cover a wonderfully gigantic zoo. At the end of the trip the teachers made a smart call and let all of the kids unwind on the playground before corraling everyone back on to the school busses to go back to school.

A couple of weeks ago was our trip to the mounted patrol stables. They are in Seattle's Westcrest park and I have driven by the driveway to the stables many, many times without ever noticing the stables were there. Before hitting the stables the kinders had lunch and played on the playground. The police officer who guided our tour was kind and informative and, most importantly with kinders, relatively quick. We got to see the tack room, the arena, the stables, the hay bales, the resident cat who just loved the attention of all of those kids, and of course, the horses! On our way out the police officer gave all of the kids junior mounted patrol stickers.

Last week was probably my favorite field trip of the year, next to seeing Frog and Toad. It was a gloomy, rainy, typical Seattle Spring day (though as a side note, our Spring this year is bee-you-tee-ful!) but that didn't deter two full bus loads of kids plus  teachers and chaperones from descending on the beaches along the Puget Sound for low tide. I had never explored the beach we were at and was thrilled to discover that the piles of giant rocks was home to dozens of bright purple sea stars and other sea creatures! We were all soaked through our boots and rain gear by the end of our trip, but it was well worth it. Definitely my most memorable low-tide exploration to date. Well, next to the time that one of my children who, when pretty small, screamed bloody murder whenever I tried to set her down to walk on the rocks. She was absolutely convinced a crab would bite her. Through her rain boots. And the crabs about the size of a half dollar. Never mind, the girls both grew up to love exploring the magic of low tide.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

School Assignment

A few weeks ago we sent in our forms to enroll Iris in public school for the 2012-2013 school year.

Let me back track a bit and explain how SPS (Seattle Public Schools) works. The year Iris started Kindergarten (2009) was the last year SPS used a "choice" based model. Children weren't guaranteed a spot at any particular school in your reference area (each reference area has, I would guess, about 10 schools or so), even the school that was closest to your home. You had to fill out an enrollment form and list your school choices in order and send it in, then the district would use some crazy formula for deciding what school your kid would go to. By the time Eloise started school the district had switched over to a model of guaranteeing all children a spot at their reference school. Boundaries were drawn and if you lived in the boundary of that school, your child gets in, period. You could ask to have your child assigned to another school in the area and were allowed to go there if space permitted.

There are good and bad points to this system. The best point being that you now knew where your kid was guaranteed a spot and if you live in the reference area for a school you want, you are golden. There are lots of negatives, however. Many families who had enrolled older children in schools that didn't end up being their reference school (by choice or by force) are now having younger siblings in the awful situation of not getting a spot at the same school as their older sibling. Siblings get priority, but they are still only allowed to enroll after all of the kids who are assigned to that school. My friend, for instance, just found out her daughter is number 11 on the waiting list to get her in to her older daughter's school. The younger daughter was assigned to the reference school, instead.

Now, the one thing is that if a family finds themselves in this situation they can pull the older child out of their established school and send them to the reference school. Not ideal, at all, but at least your kids have a chance of being together. Last year my other friend went through agony waiting to hear what would happen with her youngest of three being waitlisted for her two older children's school. Luckily her child got in, eventually. But the wait and stress is, well, incredibly stressful. If I recall, she wouldn't have pulled her older kids out and moved them. Her oldest was in her last year of grade school!

So, here's the other thing. My first friend, with the daughter at number 11, has her older daughter at one of the most sought-after schools in our reference area. Her younger daughter was assigned to another one of our sought-after schools. If she moved her older daughter, it would result in over-enrolling of that school (a school which is already over-crowded in the first place!). The insane thing is that they would over-enroll my friend's second choice, the school her older daughter isn't at, but they won't over-enroll the school her daughter is established at. Well, let me back-track. That school, as far as I have heard, is also already over-enrolled. That is kind of what is happening with this new model of being guaranteed a spot at your reference school-- schools have to enroll these kids, even if it crowds the school.

That sounds a little jumbled, so how's this: Older kid is at over-enrolled school A. Younger kid is assigned to school B. Older kid can switch to school B, but younger kid won't be allowed to enroll at school A. Both A and B schools are over-enrolled.

Let me get to why I am writing this in the first place, which is that we filled out an enrollment application for Iris to get in to her sister's school. Since Eloise doesn't go to our reference school, we knew it would be a nail-biter as we waited for the assignment. That came Monday and guess what? Iris is waitlisted. Number one on the list, but still waitlisted. It's a little bit different in that Iris is applying for an older grade, where I think there isn't as much movement as there is for incoming kindergartners, but it's a similar dilemma. Remember school B, from the scenario above? The popular over-crowded one? Well, that's our reference school, too. Instead of putting Iris in Eloise's school, even if it means over-enrolling that classroom, they put her at over-enrolled school B. We can pull Eloise from her school to send her to school B, too. Of course that would result in even further over-enrolling of school B. BOTH of my kids would be put in to classrooms where they were no longer in control of the numbers.

It just doesn't make any sense to me. I know SPS needs to have a plan in place, but so many families are being affected by this. Children should be allowed to go to the school where their siblings are, period. End of story.

I have a few ideas up my sleeve about how to proceed with all of this, but none of them guarantees the outcome we want. For that, the most we can do is sit and wait and cross our fingers that a family leaves the school. If that happens, Iris will get that spot.

A lot of people around me are quite optimistic about the situation, but me? Not so much. I am stressed beyond belief by all of this. Continuing to home school Iris is an option, but not our favorite. Iris is ready to go back to school. *I* am ready for her to go back to school, but I wouldn't just send her to any school over homeschooling. I don't yet know if school B is a viable option for her. I jokingly considered it when I thought there was no chance she wouldn't get in to Eloise's school, but now I have to be more serious about it. I won't switch Eloise. Eloise has the best teacher in the world and I am not  moving her! I could enroll Iris at school B and wait for a spot to open, but at that point, do you switch a kid-- again? Iris needs to be in a situation where she can establish herself. Clearly I have a lot to consider, all while keeping my fingers crossed.

MAP Testing

Last week Iris took the MAP test for the first time. MAP stands for Measurement of Academic Progress and it is a widely administered standardized test given to students. I know the Seattle Public School district uses this particular test. I *think* they do it twice a year, but don't know for sure.

The reason Iris had to take this test was that the virtual public school, CVA, that Iris is enrolled in requires each child to take some standardized test. I chose MAP since that is what she will be doing when she is a public school student.

Iris took the test from home and we had to specially set up our computer to be able to take the test. At a pre-aranged time we logged on and the proctor set it all up and Iris worked at her own pace. We were given an hour and I think Iris each test in about 20 minutes, which is true to fashion for her. The first day she did math, the second day she did reading. Taking the test at home has some pros and cons, the first day was nice and quiet and she worked at the kitchen table. The next day I had two people at our house doing fix-it jobs and I was running around like a lunatic trying to get ready for a trip I was going on. Not the ideal working conditions!

When I got the results I was actually surprised that they were completely in line with the results of Iris's intelligence testing. When they do the intelligence testing a lot of it is kind of abstract, so I didn't know how it would translate to a test of actual questions about information Iris had learned. THAT kind of testing is more about what I had taught her and what amount of information she had retained! Alas, the scores completely made sense, so I was relieved. I am also relieved knowing that Iris is at or above what she is supposed to know for her grade level, phew! I haven't ruined her this year! Ha ha.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Reports and updates

Okay, keeping up over here is clearly not happening this year. Phooey!

As usual, much has been going on. I'll start with Eloise.

Last week Eloise was sent home with her second report card. I wonder if it is this way for other schools, but instead of getting graded A, B, C, etc, she gets 1, 2, 3, etc. As I sit here I am thinking that 1 is low and 5 is extremely high. Eloise got mostly 3's and then a couple of 4's. Since she isn't really graded on things being right and wrong, she is more graded on how well she is grasping material, how well she is moving along as she should, how well she gets along with other kids. Her first report card landed her a 2 in "Civics" which is basically understanding and following the classroom rules. We are happy to report she has moved up to a 3! ha ha. So, basically, zero concerns. Eloise has such a love for learning, it is crazy. The other day she said to me "I just want to learn how to read so bad!" (or something like that). She is working so, so, so hard to learn to read. And she loves math and science, and, well, pretty much everything. She has a lot of enthusiasm and that, more than anything, is going to get her places in life.

I also found out that last November Eloise took a MAP test (Measures of Academic Progress). I was a little annoyed that this was the first I had heard about it, but luckily the teacher knew it was a pretty poor judge of how much these little guys really know. It was more about just learning to take a test.

One afternoon when Iris and I were volunteering in her classroom we got to help with a science unit about ramps and balls. The kids were working in groups of three to make their own ramps out of cardboard tubes and other odds and ends. One boy in her group designated himself as being in charge of the scissors. Since scissors weren't once needed, he spent the whole time goofing off with another friend. Eloise and another girl worked so well together on their ramp. They problem-solved, shared ideas, collaborated, celebrated their successes and overall had a really fun time on the project. It was neat to see all of this coming out in her. It doesn't seem like that long ago she was overcome with frustration and acting out over every little thing. Of course, at home? Still blowing her fuse. But she is doing so beautifully at school and it is awesome.

Iris is also doing really well!

The past month brought with it a huge amount of stress over what the right school program would be for her next year. We went around and around and finally decided on applying for her to get in to Eloise's school. We will find out in a couple of weeks if she gets in or not. If she doesn't, I honestly don't know what plan B is.

Homeschool is fine. We are plugging along and mostly enjoying it. I think more than anything we are just bored. I still haven't quite figured out how to manipulate our current curriculum in to something challenging for Iris so we often slog through things that, while interesting, aren't really sparking that much interest. The social studies piece of the curriculum is really boooooring. I am having flashbacks to how much I hated social studies in grade school and I see now that it can really be quite dry. If I were a more imaginative teacher I would figure out a way around this, but alas, I am not. If I were to do it again I would buy a separate social studies curriculum.

We also have a lot of other things going on every week, like appointments, classes, and the babysitter being here, so luckily we don't spend very much time every day laboring over books and worksheets at home.

Every 20 lessons in Iris's curriculum she takes a test and then submits some writing samples to an advisory service that is provided with the curriculum. She also gets graded on a 1, 2, 3 level. Overall she is doing perfectly in everything. The one annoying piece is that Iris has tremendously sloppy handwriting . . . when she doesn't care very much about what she is writing. I wish I could submit random pieces of things she has written because when it is HER idea her handwriting is fine! Ugh! One of the annoyances of being a teacher is knowing how much more a child is capable of, I suppose. Last week Iris had an idea to write a play because a picture book we got from the library was written like a play. It was so beautiful! I know that those bits of writing are likely so much more important to her education than random stuff she is forced to draw for her composition lessons, but I still wish she could carry her attention to detail over in to her school work.

Next week Iris will take a MAP test from home. It is required through the online school she is enrolled in and I don't really care very much about it either way. It might be nice to know where she is at, but I am not sure the results will really be that interesting one way or another. Just feels like another hoop to jump through, mostly. Of course, in public school she will be required to take this test every year, so it is definitely a good thing to practice.

Unfortunately I have no pictures to share on this post, so that makes it pretty boring. I wish I was better about documenting things! Some day.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Seattle Beaches, by Iris

A while back a homeschooling friend of mine from Michigan suggested a fun project for Iris: her kids were learning about tides and since Lake Michigan doesn't have tides, she asked if Iris would put something together to talk about her experiences with them. We love the tides here in Seattle. Discovering creatures like jellyfish, starfish and crabs along with various shells on the beach is always amazing. Our beaches may not be good for swimming or sunning, but they couldn't be better for exploring!

It sounded like the perfect project for Iris and I jumped on it right away . . . err, I mean, theoretically I did. In actuality it took, well, an extremely long time for me to put something together. I wanted to take Iris to the beaches in our neighborhood (we live in a peninsula in Seattle) and get photos and video of low tide, but over the past many weeks all of the lowest tides have been occurring in the middle of the night. I then realized we had tons of pictures already of our experiences with low tides and just printed some off and set Iris to work. I made suggestions about content to Iris but ultimately she did about 80% of this project. I helped glue and I bound the book, checked spelling, and tried to keep her on task.

I am super proud of what she ended up with! Here it is, page for page (you should be able to click on the pictures to view them larger):

 Cover! On the inside is a map of our neighborhood 
(I didn't take a picture of that, 
since it marked our house on it).

This is how I bound the book. I punched holes in each page and then threaded a 
rubberband through the holes from behind, looping each end of a chopstick.