We’re bringing school home…

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Bean and Bella working hard

What seems like long ago now, I was an elementary teacher. I enjoyed my job, but loathed the bureaucracy. So, seven years ago when I gave birth to my first child, Bean, I started my journey as a stay-at-home-mom.

Only 4 months after she was born, she was diagnosed with an egg and milk allergy and so began our food-allergy journey. Next came the peanut allergy, and now there are too many to list. Bean is a caring, intelligent little girl. Her love and affection knows no boundaries. She is spunky and quick-witted, silly and solemn. She has probably one of the most inquiring minds I’ve ever encountered and is constantly absorbing more and more knowledge. She is already a wise old owl, at the tender age of 7.

Our second daughter, Bella, was born in 2010 and our little family became complete. We are grateful to God that little sister doesn’t have any allergies. She has a sunny disposition and looks up to her big sister, who treats her as her own best friend. Bella loves to take risks and certainly keeps us on our toes. But she, too, is a miniature intellect, often surprising us with her memory and wit.

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The 2017 Honolulu Biennial Art Festival at Ward Village: A Family-Centered Review

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If you are like me, you probably have no idea what exactly a biennial art festival entails. My understanding of art biennials was minimal to say the least, before my experience at the new Honolulu Biennial this weekend. Henri Neuendorf explains the historical and cultural significance of art -ennials in Art Demystified: Biennials Explained. These art festivals are held across the world in an effort to support artists, showcase culture, and embrace diversity, with the added benefit of attracting art tourism to the cities in which they are held. Not surprisingly, Italy is known for hosting the first and longest standing biennial event, the Venice Biennale. As Neuendorf explains, “It was created for the precise reason of establishing a platform for art world participants to compare and contrast the art created across the world…” The 2017 Honolulu Biennial: Middle of Now is Honolulu’s inaugural biennial, the beginning of a new tradition for the city. It showcases work from artists all across the globe at nine different locations in the city, and it is an incredible family experience that we look forward to visiting again.

FullSizeRenderMomsInHawaii.com and Ward Village generously offered my family the opportunity to visit the Ward venues so I could share our experience with you. Ward hosts two venues: the Hub and the IBM building. We went on a Saturday and enjoyed ourselves so much that we returned the following Monday. Parking was easy and free at both locations on both days. My husband had a cold and didn’t feel like walking between the IBM building and the HUB, but they are only about 2-2.5 blocks apart so it would be easily walkable if you decide to just park in one place. Parking is available in the lot directly in front of the Hub. There is plenty of parking in between the Hub and the IBM if you choose to walk, otherwise parking is available for the IBM building across the street in Ward Village.

Upon entering the IBM building, we were greeted by some welcoming Biennial representatives who explained where we could see the art in the building. There are two pieces located outside on the large lanai and one large full room art piece on the third floor. After viewing the outdoor exhibits on our own, we were escorted to the third floor to see the final installation, a small apartment-like space complete with a couch, book shelves, a dining table and chairs, and a bed all covered in florescent dots, illuminated by the purple glow of black lights. This was my girls’ favorite display at the IBM location for good reason. It was truly fascinating. It may seem tempting to skip this location since it only houses three artists’ work, but it is a MUST SEE at the Biennial in my opinion. Besides the fact that it is one of the biennial’s free venues, only in person can you observe the details of each piece, the texture of the stainless steel artificial rock, the slow methodical motions of the breathing flower, the orderliness of the dots in the room and how they seem to make everything else disappear…

The Hub is the Biennial’s largest venue, located in the old Sport’s Authority building off Ward Avenue. I found the hours (12-7pm) to be a little inconvenient for our family, since it seems like the morning is the best time for us to avoid traffic. On our Saturday trip, I mistakenly believed we could manage to see the Hub in a little less than an hour. I was VERY wrong! There was so much to see that when we had to leave, my girls begged to return, and I couldn’t refuse. I wanted to see more too! We spent another three hours there on our next trip the following Monday. I’ll admit, we could have stayed longer on that visit too, but we really needed to hit the road before traffic got too bad.

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The Hub is located in the old Sport’s Authority building on Ward Ave.

Exploring art and science exhibits with my kids seems to get more and more fun as they get older. Right now at 9 and 6 years old, they take the time to really stop, observe, and reflect on what they’re seeing. On our visits, if I didn’t pause to read the artist information cards to them, I’d catch the big kid reading to herself or to her sister and I witnessed their eyes glow with newfound understanding when they turned back to the art. Much of the art in this particular show conveys topics that are great starting points for healthy conversations about current events/issues facing our world today. Many of the pieces also encourage further education. At the Hub alone, we discussed women’s rights, pollution and global warming, racism, migration and displacement, and even nuclear power. There were so many opportunities to analyze not only the art itself, but also the messages the artists were trying to convey.

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One of Bella’s completed workbook pages.

When you enter the Hub you can pick up a guidebook (for a suggested $1 donation), and a keiki workbook for the kids. Both give you a little more information about the artists and/or their work and the children’s activity book includes questions to get the keiki thinking about the artwork and pages for their own art. We also picked up a scavenger hunt sheet at the entrance, but were too enthralled by the art to really look for any of it. After we left though, my girls enjoyed going over the scavenger hunt page thinking about where they saw or may have seen each item.

We had a few favorites on our visits that my girls wanted to see again and again. Those planning the biennial seemed to know exactly which ones the children would be most interested in and included those in the keiki workbook. Bean, 9, really loved Ken & Julia Yonetani’s “Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations” and the gorgeous clothing created by Marques Hanalei Marzan in “‘A’ahu Kino Lau,” while six-year-old Bella’s favorite was “Crossings: Project Another Country” by Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan. Both my girls enjoyed decorating the artists’ corresponding pages in their workbook on our drive home. You will find a sneak peek of each of these in the slideshow below, but you’ll have to head to there yourself to see the rest of these artists’ incredible work!

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Ken & Julia Yonetani’s “Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations

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Marques Hanalei Marzan’s “‘A’ahu Kino Lau”

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Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan’s “Crossings: Project Another Country”

I appreciated that they didn’t include all the artists in the children’s workbook because there were a few pieces that were a little tough for my more sensitive daughter. One exhibit, “Islands in a Basket” by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, is included in the keiki workbook and is composed of three videos accompanied by poignant poetry, but the images in one video were pretty disturbing to my little ones. I recommend viewing the video here on YouTube to preview it and decide for yourself if you’d like to just walk past that exhibit (though I recommend the adults take a good look if you can). Another exhibit, “A Study of a Samoan Savage” by Yuki Kihara, included nude photos of a man. I did allow my children to explore those photos with me, because we try to keep an open dialogue in our home when it comes to that sort of thing, but some children may not be mature enough to handle it. You can find photos of two more exhibits below, as well as one each from Kihara’s and Jetnil-Kijiner’s, that you may want to approach with caution, but keep in mind that as an adult, these are incredible pieces with plenty of artistic and cultural merit. I encourage you to attend either with your spouse or another family so you can take turns leading the kids to the art you’d like them to see, while giving each other the opportunity to go back and enjoy the exhibits your children might not like. The bottom line here is to use your discretion with your keiki to determine what you’d like them to see.

While some exhibits at the Hub were not exactly appropriate for all ages, everything in the IBM building was child friendly. But I will warn you- at both locations it is vitally important that your children are well behaved. Much of the art has been created from objects that are quite tempting to little hands. I wouldn’t recommend bringing small children who can’t be contained in a stroller or who frequently run off or otherwise disobey. HB MIH BEHAVIORThe upstairs room in the IBM building is a walk-through experience, with every day objects all around that are not meant to be touched or rearranged in any way. One exhibit in the Hub, partially pictured above, “Crossings: Project Another Country” by Afredo and Isabel Aquilizan, is made of small boats filled with household objects including toys, dishes, ropes, blankets, and other items that easily attract little fingers. Both of my children, ages 9 and 6, admitted to having a hard time not touching this display in particular. Other displays are set up on the ground, but are not meant to be walked on. Parents- only bring children you can trust, and keep them with you at all times to ensure they are being respectful of the artists’ work.

One very special exhibit though was MADE just for the creative, hands-on spirit in all of us, especially the kids. It’s called “Graffiti Nature” created by TeamLab of Japan. In this interactive exhibit, visitors get to take part in the creation of the art. Before entering the room where it all happens, guests are given a black-line template, an outline of a living thing such as a flower, bird, lizard, butterfly, or frog. Once inside, there are stations set up with crayons and markers where you can color your critter. I recommend using bright, dark colors; skip the pastels- they don’t show up well. When your picture is complete, you can carry it to the back of the room to be scanned. Wait a moment, keeping your attention on the wall nearby the scanner, and soon your little critter will be scurrying, hopping, fluttering, or flying across the floor. Take some time to experiment with your keiki by standing or sitting completely still. What happens around you? What if you hop like frog? What happens to your critter when you follow it around the room?Does it freeze up, or maybe run away? Does it multiply? Or does it quickly get eaten?! I’ll leave you to discover the answers to these questions yourself. If you want to see videos of our art in motion from this exhibit, head over to my Instagram page!

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The 2017 Honolulu Biennal Art Festival at Ward is just the beginning for our family. We plan to head to more locations while it’s here and are looking forward to its return in two years. We can’t wait to see what new fascinating art awaits us. You can head to the Honolulu Biennial website to see all the locations, times, and costs for the festival. It runs through May 8, so definitely plan to carve out some time with your family to stop by. Just make sure you give yourself enough time to really explore!

Mahalo Ward Villages and MomsInHawaii.com for the opportunity to review this incredible event. It was unforgettable!

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Quality Screen Time

img_0643No matter how like-minded your acquaintances, controversy surrounds the topic of screen time in almost every circle. Today, homeschooling families frequently worry about our children wasting away in front of a glowing LED. But at the same time, we face pressure to expose our children to the future. This isn’t terribly new territory for parents, as TVs have been around for quite a few generations now, but it IS a little different considering there are tiny screens riding around in our pockets now too. We are living in a digital age and to deny that is a disservice to our children. So where do we draw the line? What makes screen time “quality” versus mind-numbing? How can we prevent internet addiction in our children?

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering these questions and I feel like I’m finally in a place that satisfies me, a place where my girls interact with technology enough to understand it but not so much that they become zombies. I’ve decided that if they’re going to spend any amount of time in front of a screen it should really be quality time. In our house, quality screen time means:

1. They should learn something positive from it. Bonus points if it can be further expanded upon in books or in our homeschool lessons. Why watch something mind-numbing when there are so many wonderful, educational options?

2. The entertainment value should be appropriate. I’m okay with a little slapstick here and there but I really don’t want them picking up bad habits, so videos with whiney characters who are always making bad choices just to teach a “moral” are not an option (I’m talking to you, My Little Pony!). And if there’s any boy drama it’s out. (Ehem, LEGO Friends…)

3. After or even during their screen time, we have a discussion about what they viewed or experienced. I get all the details on their Minecraft play, what happened in a cartoon, or the random facts they learned from a documentary. If it is a new show or activity, I most often watch or participate with them, too.

By following these three rules my girls are able to have quality screen time, but that doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all either. We have other usage rules surrounding digital devices. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends placing consistent limits on digital media for children ages 6 and older. Our TV and electronics stay off unless otherwise instructed. After a full day of schoolwork, Bean and Bella are allowed 20-30 minutes of screen time… IF they’ve had reasonable behavior all day. Too much whining, not completing the work, or just running out of time means no screen time that day. Many days they are so caught up in their pretend play that they forget all about TV or iPads anyway. I don’t remind them of their “missed” time, either. Keeping our usage rules consistent makes the boundaries clear and easy to follow.

They are NEVER allowed to use electronics when visiting with friends. Both girls have little Vtech Kidizoom cameras that have games in their options. They are allowed to use the camera and playback settings anytime, but gameplay counts as screen time. They enjoy taking these out when their friends are over, but by limiting game play on them, the devices become fun shared activities. Once or twice I have let them show/compare/discuss their Minecraft creations with interested friends, but I don’t allow it to turn into a “watch me play” situation. On occasion, they can also watch movies with guests, but most often I don’t allow that either. Face-to-face time with other children is in-person play time, not screen time.

Tablets cost as little as $49 these days.

Our digital limits prevent that power struggle between parent and child over when and what can be played or viewed. If a time comes (and every now and then it does) in which they don’t stop asking to play on the iPad or watch a video, I will cut off screen time completely for a week or two at a time. This is meant less as a punishment and more as a “cleanse,” but it does usually make them pretty upset at first! That said, after two or three days, they seem to forget about the entire digital world and get caught up in all the real life fun to be had again. I will let them enjoy that for a while before I reintroduce their screen time.

I encourage them to enjoy their screen-free play time, but I don’t want the screen to be some holy grail that they are constantly chasing. That’s why I frequently surprise them with additional family screen time. Sometimes it’s a Book of Virtues episode on YouTube (especially if I’ve recently seen a behavior I’d like to address). Other times it’s a new documentary I’ve found on Netflix. Occasionally, I’ll find a hit movie on Amazon Prime (we like older movies like Yours, Mine, and Ours, Annie, and Matilda) and we’ll make some popcorn, grab a couple of blankets and snuggle up together to watch it. Most often, Sundays involve a little extra TV time with their daddy. Usually it’s an educational but entertaining documentary  or show like Cosmos, or DisneyNature films.

As a child, I remember sitting in front of the television for hours on end in the evenings, on weekends, during school breaks… why not let my girls have a binge every now and then too, especially when most days they don’t end up with any screen time at all? During football season, the girls are allowed to bring small electronics to the home football games, where they indulge for hours on their tiny screens. I think it gives them a little taste of the freedom I had as a child, while keeping it a bit more reigned in. Plus, I’m sure as they get older they will begin to find the football games themselves more interesting than the screen in their hand.

I suppose all this means that I don’t have anything against screen time, except that there are most often much better things to be doing. Consider this: what SHOULD you really be doing right now? Probably not reading a blog post, right? I try to be mindful of MY internet usage and I want my children to understand that living in a digital age means finding that balance too. When and how much screen time they participate in is something they will need to learn how to manage on their own some day. It is my job to set them up for success. Screen-based technology is always within reach! All parents are going to have to find what works for their children, and it is going to look different in every household. We can’t be sure until they’re off to college if they’re going to get lost in the digital world… but hopefully, HOPEFULLY, for now I’ve found the right balance for my kiddos to help them form healthy relationships with technology.

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CC Review Games that Rock

I’ve been working on this list for a VERY long time. In recent conversation with my CC tutor buddies though, I realized that this won’t be of much help to tutors and parents if I never move it out of my “drafts” folder and get it published! So here it is. These are some fun ways to review Classical Conversations material (or really any material for that matter) with your class or with your own students at home. It is not an exhaustive list by any means, but these were what I’ve regularly used, seen in use, and enjoyed with my students. I’m sure there are lots more fantastic ideas on CC Connected, so don’t forget to check there as well!

First a few tips… When I was tutoring I always liked to pair or team my students up to answer review questions because it really ISN’T a competition. It’s more about letting the students go through the material again, whether they’re reciting it or simply hearing it; every exposure counts. By teaming or partnering students up, it’s less likely anyone will feel disappointed if they can’t think of the answer and you’ll be more likely to have attentive students since they will be busy helping one another.

For most of these games I just used my Foundations Guide to choose questions. I’d make a light pencil mark next to the ones I already asked if I started to get confused, but usually I was able to keep track by focusing on either one week at a time or one subject at a time. As I set up any game I often had the class sing the Timeline Song together and then I’d omit that subject from the game. So we’d only go through: Grammar, Math, Science, History Sentence, Geography, and Latin during the game play. You can nearly change any game into a review game by simply having students answer a review question before their turn. You just need to be diligent in selecting games that require little play time, so each student’s turn isn’t so long that it squanders the review time.

We actually use this other brand like Kerplunk but called Tumble. It works just as well.

Kerplunk – Students answer a review question before pulling a stick from the Kerplunk stand.

Candyland – My girls love this one in the classroom AND at home. It works best when the class is split into 2-4 groups. I assign each subject a color and usually omit the Timeline when playing. Then it works out just right to use the solid colors for each subject. There are special “Candy” spaces too, that you could use as free cards and students could move to that space without answering a review question. Alternately, you could allow students to choose a subject when they draw those cards. I have heard of some tutors who use their color-coded review cards for this game and the colors coorespond with the game cards, too. Makes me want to buy those cards… lol! Continue reading

Homeschooling with Chronic Pain

I have never really considered myself as someone living with chronic pain… I suppose that’s because I’m not actually in pain constantly, just frequently. A recent Facebook thread about homeschooling with chronic pain somehow made me realize that I do indeed suffer chronically. As I read the mother’s question about how to tailor her homeschool around her pain, I realized that I do that… I tailor our homeschool around my pain. Somehow I never consiously realized it until that very moment.

Migraines are often debilitating

I suffer from migraine headaches. I’ve had them since I was 16 years old. My mother has them, my aunts have them, my cousins… It’s just part of our genetic code. Part of life. Save for a few strange weeks here or there, my migraines have pretty consistently come 2-3 times per week, every week since I first began to get them. The medical definition of “chronic migraine” is 15 or more headaches per month, at least 8 of them being migraines. With 9-12 migraines per month and always a handful of tension or sinus headaches mixed in, I suppose I really DO have chronic migraines. That is hard to accept!

So how do I function on a daily basis? How do I do my duties as a homeschool mom, housewife, tutor, and blogger? Well, I’ll be the first to admit that I frequently don’t. I fail. I fail often. Obviously I don’t get around to posting here as often as I’d like (though I try to make my content worth the wait for my few faithful readers!). There are many nights I go to bed with dishes in the sink, laundry on the piled up on the couch, no lesson plans prepared for morning, and sometimes there are even nights that my kids have to tuck themselves in.

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The Waikiki Aquarium Critter Encounter

IMG_0654I have lived on Oahu for over 9 years and somehow I’ve never made a trip to the Waikiki Aquarium… until now. When Moms In Hawaii reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in reviewing the Critter Encounter at the Waikiki Aquarium, I jumped at the opportunity. Our family has participated in reef walks twice, visited the Living Art Marine Center a few times, and we regularly explore the creatures in our local Hawaiian waters. So I guess you could say I wasn’t expecting to learn much new information on this visit to the aquarium. My girls were excited, of course, but I figured we wouldn’t be adding much to the base knowledge we’ve acquired over the years of these little critters. Fortunately, I was very, very wrong!

IMG_0662Mary, our critter connoisseur and guide, met us soon after our arrival and escorted us to the touch pools. As we walked she spoke a little about the aquarium’s two resident seals, stopping to let the girls watch them swim around. She answered all of Bean’s questions then continued to lead us to the touch pools tucked away at the back of the park. We felt quite special being led into the “Authorized Personnel Only” area, which by the way, highlighted the beauty of the location. Just look at that view! Aquarium trip followed by beach day, anyone?

Once inside, Mary took a few minutes to give Bean and Bella a little teaser about what they would be seeing during our encounter and the rules they’d need to follow. She went over what kinds of critters they’d be allowed to touch, hold, and even feed. She primed their little brains quite well and didn’t just tell them the basics, but instead spoke about the details, what made the critters alike and different. Next, clearly knowing how intimidating it might be for a child to get up the nerve to touch at a living sea urchin, she showed them a shell and spines while explaining that they had once been a part of a living sea urchin.

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Bean touched the shell of a sea urchin, as well as a fallen spine. Mary showed how the spine was once attached to the urchin.

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Logic of English: Essentials 2nd Edition 

Some days I really realize just how very blessed I am. Every time I pull out our Essentials manual I am reminded that I was blessed by Logic of English with the opportunity to review it. After I posted my review of their Foundations program I was approached to join their affiliate program and was later given a special opportunity to receive a copy of the NEW Essentials 2nd edition for review. How cool is that?! So blessed. So grateful.

Essentials is designed for children age 8 and up. The complete set runs $198, but if you’ve already used the 1st edition of Essentials,  you will only need the upgrade set for $93. If you’ve used the Foundations program, you may already have much of the materials needed as well and can start with the upgrade set, adding additional items al la carte. I ended up purchasing Rhythm of Handwriting Cursive as well to use for the Pre-Lessons (more on that in a minute). The complete set contains all you see here.

I took the teacher’s manual to my room with me the first night after receiving it. This is my happy place- laying in bed propped up on my reading pillows, all alone… In the silence and comfort of my own room. Silence is rare in a homeschool house, am I right?! It took about two or three evenings spent reading to get through those first pages, being sure I was understanding it completely.

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Reading 101

Once upon a time I was a teacher. A reading specialist, actually. I pulled children out from the classroom and held small group and one-on-one instruction with them. I watched second grade students reading at the kindergarten level (still working on letter sounds) advance to their proper grade level over the course of a semester. It was incredible to be a part of that transition for those children!

Sometimes, though, I think I learned more than they did during that time. I learned that the BIGGEST contributing factor to reading success is not instruction time, flash cards, or hands on techniques. It is simply time spent reading together. Working out those sounds, together. Encountering new words, together. The beauty of this is that it doesn’t have to be a teacher and student interaction. It can be parent with child, classmates, siblings, friends, and even stuffed animals.

I have a memory of reading in third grade… My teacher put us in small groups of two or three to read together. She must have seen the future teacher in my eyes, because she whispered to me when she partnered me with the child reading at the lowest level, “I think you can be a great helper for Tina. Can you help her read today?” I will never forget the pride I felt being able to help my friend.

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