Friday, February 27, 2015

Some Serious Science

It might make more sense for us to actually live at the Natural History Museum and save on rent.  I'm sure the kids wouldn't mind sleeping with the skeletons.


We were there at least twice this week (possibly three times, I honestly can't remember).  On Tuesday night we went to a "NASA Missions" presentation at the planetarium.  It wasn't meant to be a kids program, it was fairly late on a school night, but our kids loved it.  Two space scientists from the museum talked to us as we stared at the dome of the planetarium.  They took us on a virtual trip across the surface of Mars using images from the Curiosity rover, past Pluto with images from New Horizons spacecraft, and even through the rings of Saturn aboard Cassini.


The very next morning we returned to the museum to meet some new friends.  Our homeschool community keeps growing and we're meeting the most interesting people.  This family was no exception.  Ella met Finn in her writing workshop last week and they hit it off so much that Ella begged me to set up a play date.  With the weather still hovering around zero, a playground was out of the question, so where else?  We spent a few hours wandering around the museum with Finn's mom, two sisters, and little brother and it felt like we had known them a long time already.  While his mom and I hit it off talking homeschool, travel with kids, and blogging, the kids were getting mini-lessons from docents who had plenty of time on their hands in the middle of a school day.  I felt a lot less guilty about not getting any "schoolwork" done that day since they were learning lots of random science facts from real experts. 

Finn's family lives in Vermont mostly and Manhattan part-time and is about to embark on a 50-state tour of the U.S. in an RV!  So basically, they live my dream life.  Ella and Finn have already started emailing back and forth and we can't wait to virtually follow them on their big adventure this year.  Spending a few hours with a seasoned homeschool mom, and one who loves to travel as much as I do, left me feeling really inspired and excited and even more confident in our decision to homeschool.


After all, I have a 7-year-old who begs to get the Science section of the New York Times first.  I must be doing something right.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Separating Siblings

I've told you that the most difficult part of homeschooling so far has not been one of the many things I thought it would be.  It's actually been Ella and Holden having to spend every single waking (and sleeping) minute together.  They wake up and have breakfast together.  They school at the dining room table together.  They take classes together.  They play together.  And they sleep in bunk beds, right on top of each other.  I've always said they have a love/hate relationship.  They are each others best friends, and there is no one in the world they can be more vicious to.

We had a nice enough day on Sunday checking out a children's ballet at the New York Theater Ballet, Alice in Wonderland Follies.


Holden actually shed tears on Sunday morning when I told him that we were seeing a ballet that afternoon but as soon as the performance was over he was applauding wildly.  I think it was good for the kids to see not only a children's ballet but one on a smaller, more manageable stage since they've only been exposed to ballets at Lincoln Center so far.  Holden was relieved not to have to wear a button down shirt.

And Kevin continued his Saturday morning lessons with the kids (piano and history) which serve multiple purposes: 1) gives him a chance to play teacher, 2) takes some lessons off my plate for the week, and 3) gives me a couple childless hours to myself (even if I do spend them preparing for the coming week's lessons, at least I'm alone in a coffee shop).

But after a few screaming sessions and some punches thrown, Kevin and I knew that Sunday had to be a Divide and Conquer Day.  It was so obvious that we didn't even discuss it.  We just each made plans to take one child on our own.

It works like magic.  As soon as we're each alone with one child, all the best in that child comes out.  They are happy and pleasant and a pleasure to be around all day.  We aren't stressed trying to break up fights all day.  So much so that I always wonder what each of them would have been like had they been an only child.

Kevin and Holden apparently had a fabulous day.  They discovered some new gym in Midtown and did some climbing on the climbing wall and lots of swimming in the indoor pool.  Luckily Kevin bought a trial membership for the next two months because when Ella found out how they spent their day, she ran to her room in tears of envy.

I let Ella make all the decisions for our day.  She's been feeling a little too managed and overscheduled lately so I wanted to give her back some control.  I was fully prepared to bite my tongue and allow her to spend the entire day playing Minecraft if that's what she chose, but happily she said she wanted to take her sketch book over to The Met.  Phew.

And as always on Divide and Conquer Days, we had a wonderful day.  Ella was in her element.

When we arrived at the museum we found out there was a Gallery Talk about to start on storytelling in Greek and Roman art.  We joined the hour-long tour and Ella sketched her way through galleries that she's been in many times with her Friday night mythology class.

It was so nice to see her so engaged and peaceful (without having to compete with a little brother).  We ate a fancy lunch in the museum, complete with a view of the obelisk in Central Park that Ella quickly showed me she had sketched last year in her notebook.  And then Ella led us through the Egyptian rooms.  For the millionth time... I tried to steer her toward the Islamic art since she had just started learning about Islam the day before with Kevin, but quickly remembered that she was in charge (not easy for me) and followed her lead.  It's starting to look like Egyptology isn't just a passing phase with this girl.


As we walked back home through Central Park I realized a big difference between my kids.  If I had spent the day with Holden, he would have been gripping my hand the entire day, cheerily talking my ear off.  Ella spent the day elbowing her way through the crowd to the front of the group to see the art up close.  She spent a long time quietly drawing.  While walking home she stayed up ahead, skipping and humming to herself.  Once we were on the other side of the park and I grabbed her hand to cross the street she said, "I just daydreamed all the way through the park, Mom!"


Friday, February 20, 2015

Life Below Zero

Well, it's finally happened.  Since the invention of the camera phone I have gone a week without taking a photo for the very first time.  I sat down to write a post for you people and realized I had no photos to share of our week.  How can I blog without photos?  There's no point really, since I know that's why you come.

So I'll keep it short.

You've probably read that we're having record low temps here.  The mystery that I can't solve is that if they say the temperature is "2 degrees, with wind chill feels like 18 below" then why isn't the temperature just 18 below?  If it feels like 18 below, then it is 18 below.  Right? 

Needless to say I'm loving my silk long underwear and wool socks.  Especially since we've been walking Ella to her writing workshop all week first thing in the morning.  It's a mile roundtrip, so that's two miles a day with drop-off and pick-up, walking in subzero temps.  And truth be told, I'm not hating it.  A brisk walk in cold temps is better than caffeine to wake you up.

We were invited to some new friends' apartment for dinner last night, which was a nice treat.  Usually, the New York thing to do is meet up with friends at restaurants for meals since no one seems to have apartments big enough to host your entire family, but this family does.  Their daughter is in several of Ella and Holden's homeschool classes, so it was especially nice to get to know another homeschool family.  The mom is a trained pastry chef.  We were well taken care of.

Other than that, it's been a pretty mundane week.  That's probably why I have no photos to show.  Holden and I have spent our mornings while Ella is in her workshop catching up on schoolwork so that we can end the school year early.  All of their regular classes are cancelled this week since it's officially mid-winter break.  And Ella has really enjoyed the Essay Writing workshop.  Her teacher is a young, energetic woman, always smiling.  Nothing like Ella's regular teacher...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

West Point

Technically, it was a long weekend.  But with below zero temperatures (seriously, my first time experiencing that) we made a family decision - truth be told, I made an executive decision and then convinced my students it was their idea - to keep schooling through the holiday.  If we can catch up on schoolwork while the weather is nasty, then we'll have more time once the weather warms up to end school early.  They liked my logic.

So Saturday Kevin got to play teacher and worked with them on history and science while I prepared for the week's lessons.  In the afternoon we finally braved the cold and made our way to Lincoln Center to watch the documentary Ballet 422 about a dancer in the New York City Ballet who choreographs his first ballet at 25 years-old.  Even Holden said, "That was really good!".  Plus, it was pretty cool to see it in the same center as where the entire movie takes place, seeing rooms we've actually been in.

On Sunday we were offered the free use of a friend's car.  We weren't going to turn down an opportunity to get out of the city and explore so I pulled up my Pinterest board where I keep my list of places to go and we basically threw a dart.  We picked West Point, an hour's drive north up the west side of the Hudson River.

Is this the Hudson River or Alaska??
Kevin was disappointed that the tour of the Military Academy basically kept us in a bus the entire time and just drove us around the campus.  We weren't able to walk into any buildings for security reasons, I assume.  But frankly, the rest of the people on the tour, myself included, were just fine staying warm and toasty on a heated bus.

Our tour guide for the 3 minutes we stepped off the bus.

Frozen Hudson River
Afterwards we spent a couple hours wandering through the largest military museum in the U.S.  If you were really a military buff, this would be heaven for you.  Luckily, they had a scavenger hunt for the kids which kept us all interested and occupied.


All in all, it was a great and educational way to spend a day out of the city.

This week is mid-winter break for public schools but again, our minds are on June and sunshine and wanting to have short days, so we're plowing through.  Ella is taking a week-long Essay Writing Workshop at Writopia which she is surprisingly really excited about.  She and Holden love their weekly creative writing class there, but structured essay writing is a struggle for Ella.  Mostly, it's a struggle for Ella and me.  It's easy for me to tell her when she gets a math problem wrong, it's not subjective, it's either right or wrong.  But when I try to give her feedback on her writing it inevitably ends up with Ella stomping off in tears.  So I thought having another teacher (a real writer) work with her would be easier on her us.  One day in and so far, so good.

Friday, February 13, 2015


It was the big birthday week for Kevin.  He worked a half day on Wednesday and was able to join me to watch the kids' final performance in their Musical Storyplaying class.  For the last six weeks they've been creating a mini-musical all about courage.  If I hear them sing Whistle A Happy Tune one more time...


Then we met the babysitter on the corner and did the hand-off with the kids.  While the kids headed uptown back to the apartment, Kevin and I walked just a few blocks away to see The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  

Even though I had arranged for this weeks ago, we serendipitously got tickets to the first show after he announced he was leaving as host.  As you can imagine, the crowd was pumped up and somehow we got front row seats.  The guest was Colin Firth, whom we love, but just seeing Jon Stewart and hearing him talk to the audience before the show about his departure, was worth the tickets alone.

We hit a couple pubs on our way to a very-late reservation at a fancy restaurant, Blue Hill, that Kevin's been wanting to try.  It was poor planning to start a multi-course meal at 9pm, after already having a beer and a glass of wine.  I was ready for bed before the appetizers arrived.  But we had a very nice evening anyway and slept like babies until...

Holden crawled into our bed at 5am and promptly threw up all over us.

The kids and I stayed indoors all day Thursday as Holden fought off a fever and slept.

But by Friday morning he was back to himself (thank God kids bounce back so quickly) and we met up with a fellow homeschooler who had just finished a space unit and wanted us to join them on a tour of the Space Center at the Museum of Natural History.  Of course we've been there dozens of times, but we saw a lot more this time walking through with someone who was really on a mission.  We got to see the Planetarium show and a couple other space videos.  Fun was had by all.


The kids have just now finished their history class at the New York Historical Society and I am flying through this blog post because we are now late for their Mythology class at The Met.  I just counted that this will be our sixth time in a museum in the last seven days.  I'm changing the name of what we do from homeschool to museumschool.

Monday, February 9, 2015

"I Am Still Alive"

I love snow.  I never thought I'd say that.  If you know me well then you're probably wondering what imposter took over this blog.

Kevin & Ella strolling through Central Park

But look, it's so beautiful.  Especially in New York City.  It covers up all the trash and dirt and makes everything look clean.  Even the air smells fresh and crisp.  You hardly notice the bus fumes.


So we got out into it this weekend and took a couple strolls through Central Park.

Last week the kids and I spent as much time inside as possible.  Ella's been fighting a cold.  This is what a sick day looks like for homeschoolers.

Holden's working on a weather unit right now
The kids joined a NYC homeschool Valentine's exchange group

Some moms and I were laughing this week.  It was time to turn in our second quarterly reports as homeschoolers and one of the things we're supposed to report is how many days of school we had and how many absences.  Absences?  Where would we be? 

Friday night continues to be the highlight of the week for our entire family.  The kids had a great time learning about Perseus and Medusa, and Andromeda and the Sea Monster while looking at 17th century Italian sculptures at The Met.  And Kevin and I were greeted by a text on my phone from a new homeschool mom friend who also happens to have kids in the Friday night Mythology class.  The text said, "It's Tequila Tasting Night in the Balcony Lounge.  Come up and meet us."  Can someone please pinch me?

Saturday was Meet the Scientist Day at the Natural History Museum.  You may remember that Kevin and Holden went alone last time (Holden met a herpetologist).  This time we all got to go and fortunately for Holden, this month's scientist was a real, live paleontologist.


They also had some biological anthropologists hanging out in the Human Evolution area, waiting to answer questions.  Holden had many, like, "Is my brain grey?"

Those are real human brains

We started off Sunday, after a brisk walk across the park, at the Guggenheim Museum.  On the second Sunday of each month they lead children's tours and have art projects for them to do.  This was our first time taking part at this museum (although we've been there several times and are members).  

In just an hour we got a great tour of their current exhibit by an artist named On Kawara, saw early works by Kandinsky (pre-abstract) and we all got to do three different art projects.  An hour well spent.  


Once again, being led through a museum by a docent made all the difference.  Neither Kevin nor I were very excited about seeing the On Kawara exhibit.  Almost all of his paintings are of the date of the day that the painting was made.  He painted every day and if he didn't complete the work in the same day, he destroyed it (OCD much?).  But having someone explain to you about the artist and what went behind the work (especially when it's conceptual art), all of a sudden a bunch of paintings of dates become very interesting.  He also cut out newspaper articles for each day of each of his paintings and kept them in dozens (hundreds?) of binders that were on display.  He sent hundreds of postcards and telegrams to friends, one each day, just to say, "I am still alive." I thought it was not unlike posting photos of our meals or relaying our daily activities on Facebook and Twitter.  We just want to let someone know that we are still alive.

Even On Kawara understood the auspiciousness of this date.

Also on the second Sunday of each month is the ever-favorite, Science Teacher Sarah.  This month's "class" was called Edible Astronomy.  The kids learned about the moon phases using Oreo cookies, and made complete Solar Systems out of Starburst candies.  They simulated asteroids hitting the atmosphere by throwing M&Ms at clouds of whipped cream.  Science and junk food?  The kids were in heaven.


While Ella and Holden spent two and a half hours getting a sugar high, Kevin and I wandered down to the East Village and found an authentic Japanese tea house (I say authentic because everyone there was speaking Japanese, except us).  It was up a long dark stairway and we were instantly transported a few thousand miles away. 


In case you didn't get my postcard, I am definitely still alive.