January 2017 Update

Resolutions…I don’t normally make them. But there are two I am hoping to keep up with this year and updating our journey here is one of them. I don’t trust myself with promises but I will try.

The other? Removing the Facebook and Messenger apps from my phone. I can’t believe how much more “awake” and “engaged” I am in real life after doing this. And how much less depressed (the constant news feed drained my energy even before I started my day!).

January is proving to be very wet here and living in drought conditions, I know we need this rain very badly. We normally love rain but the constant deluge is a little worrying and we came close to flood conditions in our city. Surrounding cities did flood so we are quite lucky that we were spared.


#1 important January milestone: Kiddo starts his first honors upper division math class. It might not be official as the class has filled up and as a concurrent enrollment high school student, he gets lower priority, but he is hopeful his name will be high on the wait list and that he will get in. He will continue to attend class until the system clearly kicks him out (or accepts him).


#2 important January milestone: Atticus (on the right) turns 1 this week! He was a rescue and we won’t know his actual birthday but a vet somewhere predicted he was born this week. I have noticed some growth in the last month, he is definitely taller and ganglier than Adrian (left). My vet thinks he is part poodle which explains his non-shedding coat and exuberant energy. He brings us so much joy but is also about 3 to 5 times the work that Adrian is.

#3 important milestone: January also marks the start of kiddo’s final homeschooling semester. I don’t know what to feel just yet. I think I don’t want to think about it if I can help it. Homeschooling defined my identity in some ways. It also really changed our lives. It dictated how our days flowed. I don’t know if I will ever stop feeling like a homeschool mom. If kiddo will start college full time in the fall, he might still commute from home and we might still do things in the car like listen to books on tape and read whatever we can. Homeschooling is a lifestyle more than an education choice for us so maybe it won’t make a big difference just because he is no longer homeschooled on paper. I will miss having it on paper though, I think.

Before I sign off, I wanted to share one more photo: The obligatory homeschool lab photo! I realized a while back that we don’t have many of those on this blog. Here, kiddo works on a solubility lab for AP Chemistry (with PA Homeschoolers).


Till next time!

Randomly Recent

It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these. Gee, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything here lol! What we’ve been learning about, playing with, reading, eating, watching, discussing, repeating, trying to remember to, asking, contemplating, etc. in no-particular-order: Continue reading “Randomly Recent”

2012: Counting My Blessings

2012. I can’t wrap my head around how every year appears on my horizon, all tantalizing with possibilities, and then it’s over as if only seconds have passed. That 2012 is doing the same, that I’ve seen my wonderful, amazing kiddo turn 10 and lived watching him blossom into this cool kid that he is, I am just so thankful for this. I am not a religious woman but I feel blessed nevertheless.

Frequent readers will know how I try to write a post to commemorate each homeschooling year. I usually do that every summer. But I have some time on my hands today and the thoughts are pouring forth.

So here goes. These are my key memories of 2012.

1. Tinkering, building, taking things apart. What began as a fun autonomous vehicle project has now morphed into a true-blue crazy science experiment. You may remember me posting about the rover in January. It started off looking innocent (R). In summer, the boys built a special control station (tray for iPad, linked to backpack containing power source – L) so that kiddo can easily maneuver the car around the neighborhood. During the Christmas break, hubby and kiddo have further transformed the car into a part-autonomous vehicle, part-Lego Mindstorms monster, part mini missile launcher (for want of a better word). With an ominous name like The Black Death, I’m guessing we’re in for some pretty interesting special effects in the coming weeks. πŸ™‚ Yes, I have courageous neighbors lol.

I’ll post pix of the new machine when I can or better still, have kiddo explain it on his blog (but hedgehogs may croon Auld Lang Syne before that happens!).

Given hubby’s busy travel schedule, kiddo isn’t able to spend as much time with his Dad as most boys do. But when he does, they get up to some pretty cool hijinks together.

The boys finished the backyard pond project this year and kiddo added basic furniture assembly to his repertoire of skills. To top it off, kiddo and his buddy also built a Rube Goldberg machine!

2. Learning adventures. 2012 was a fantastic year in terms of homeschool resource choices. This is how we homeschool: kiddo tells me what he wants to learn at what challenge level and I go seek tutors/ online courses and relevant books. His Dad and I may make adjustments to his wishes if deemed necessary but about 90% of the time, this is how we go about it. It’s nice to see him being in the driver’s seat. I occasionally still suggest courses or books because I can’t imagine not ever doing that lol. I keep an eye out for sagging enthusiasm and sudden roadblocks just to make sure he knows why it’s happening but most days, he’s able to identify and solve the issues himself. As a result, this year he is almost completely an independent learner. I don’t know whether it’s good for him to be 100% independent but I do know that if for some reason I am unable to oversee things, he will know how to carry on and that’s definitely a big load off my frequently anxious shoulders.

Kiddo’s math lessons are progressing swimmingly. His tutor is such a blessing to our family. I love watching kiddo interact with his tutor and have the time of his life every week. I will say this over and over again. If your kid is passionate about something and you can’t help him with this passion, find him someone who can (and who won’t take monetary advantage of you for it).

We are really happy to see kiddo satisfied with the level of math challenge he’s getting. He is certainly developing a good bit of stamina with those harder problems too. Kiddo also had a very busy but definitely invigorating summer filled with math camps: one was a research-style camp aimed at working on unsolved math problems and the other, a cryptology-themed math class with his tutor. He came away with much-improved ability to express his mathematical thinking in words.

The boy also made it through one half of a challenging Coursera course (took notes too!). He is ready to move on to year two of German and might be trying AP-level science courses next year, but without any expectations to actually take the AP exams.

As I am starting to outsource even more than we usual do, I no longer schedule literature or history studies for now but that hasn’t stopped him from voraciously finishing a significant number of well-written classics and enjoying my cobbled-together survey course in Shakespeare every morning during breakfast. Using an animated core program definitely has its advantages! πŸ™‚

Yes, I still complain that he doesn’t write enough and writes his n’s like h’s and vice versa or forgets to put the date on his homework and leaves his study table in a mess no matter how many times I upsize the space. But blessing #2 is about celebrating how far the boy has come after all. πŸ˜‰

3. Friends, family, good health. This year has also been a great time for nurturing friendships. I remember when kiddo was six and practically friendless because he was either “too friendly” or “too young” or “too chatty” or “too curious” for other kids in our area and “too physically awkward” for me to allow him to participate in some of the more sports-oriented friend-making avenues. Time has helped so much with finding friends who accept him for who he is and for me to realize that physical awkwardness is a normal part of child development, especially in boys. I am trying to accept that he might never take to martial arts or swimming like I’d hoped, but he is showing a lot of fondness for brisk walking and some interest in basketball and kayaking. And I am making him work on reaching 20 daily pushups by the end of January 2013. Let’s hope he gets there with a good attitude!

Our trip home to Malaysia this year was very well-timed too. Kiddo had a good time bonding with his grandparents and aunts and uncles. We had a blast devouring the seasonal fruits and the delicious food. It just felt so good to be surrounded by so much love when we are both home alone most of the time.

With Adrian joining us this year, we are benefiting tremendously. From our “pack walks”, from the general well-being that comes from having a pet, and just the idea that there’s one more little fella in the house who needs our love and generously returns it, no questions asked.

2012 isn’t all roses and rainbows. I grieve for the lives lost, both from natural disasters and from personal tragedies of minds gone wrong. I worry about what the future will be like both on a personal level and for the nation and the world as a whole. I just visited my family but I also miss them terribly. But I know how lucky I am to have what I have. To be able to watch my child grow healthy, happy and strong. To have a comfortable home and access to good food and books and safety. To have my parents and in-laws, my siblings and their own families. To have a furry friend who shows me unconditional trust. To have really, really good friends, both IRL and online, after spending the first 15 years of my life with only three, scruffy four-legged ones. I am blessed. And I am fortunate that I can realize this and appreciate it because I know it can be taken from me in a heartbeat.

I guess after all these years of trying to figure out parenting and homeschooling and worrying about books and curriculum and where we are headed, I think I might be getting the point. We can learn to learn anytime. It’s learning to live that’s truly precious.

Have a blessed, beautiful 2013 everyone!

November Daybook

A month without blogging!
I can’t say I didn’t think about the blog often. I was tempted to post numerous times but gave in to lethargy and decided to prolong my break. It was nice to JUST DO IT and live for the moment instead of thinking about collecting blog-worthy events each time kiddo did something memorable. I enjoyed the break despite missing the blog.

The Rube Goldberg project…
I had mentioned that we were fixing up a Rube Goldberg project. It was organized by one of the parents from our local homeschool group (thanks G!) and was inspired by the annual MIT FAT event. Kiddo and his friend teamed up to create a really fun contraption. It made up one link of a five-link chain. The other links were built by four other teams from our homeschool group. We had a great time!

Unfortunately, I’m unable to share the video (I don’t have permission from the other teams) but I can walk you through how it works. The pivot-arm is anchored by a paperclip to the wood base. When a golf ball rolls into the cup attached to the arm, the arm swings thanks to nifty counterweights, and throws the ball into a funnel (it didn’t work the first time we linked all the machines though lol). At the same time, a wooden domino chain that spells the boys’ names in Morse code is triggered when the paperclip drops (see green string at the base). Meanwhile, the golf ball drops from the funnel into a ramp, rolls down the ramp and hits a Lego knight facing a pinwheel “windmill” (echoes of Don Quixote!) and exits the machine before entering the next link in the chain. And yes, the boys used oodles of duct tape! πŸ™‚

What’s new…
Books and things we’ve enjoyed in the past month…

Victorian crime fiction by Anna Katharine Green. Many of her titles are free via Kindle.

Thames and Kosmos Milestones in Science. A birthday gift from a dear friend. He built two projects so far without help. Although I do fuss about him growing up too soon, there are some clear benefits to him being older. πŸ™‚

41 Stories by O. Henry.

Plays from Shakespeare in Bits and reading Shakespeare On Toast by Ben Crystal. Kiddo is loving his Shakespeare studies this year. Thanks to the book, I might be able to tease an essay on Shakespeare out of him when we return. Yup, he liked it that much! Happy me!

Math Circle! The boy is clearly having fun although some of the topics go quite over his head.

And tomorrow…
Kiddo and I leave for a ten-day holiday to Malaysia. I haven’t seen my folks for over two years (although we chat often on the phone). I can’t wait to tell them all about the fun things we’ve been learning this year. Kiddo is looking forward to playing board games with his grandma (always a treat each time he sees her) and watching the Discovery channel on cable TV on demand instead of waiting for good documentaries to turn up on Netflix! What can I say? We’re too cheap and thankfully my parents are not lol!

We are so looking forward to the food too! Yum!

Adios for now, dear reader. Hope to write more when we return. Have a lovely rest-of-November and Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Hooray for Higgs…and the Bose in Boson

As delighted and fascinated as I am by the rapid succession of amazing scientific discoveries during my lifetime, I find it hard to wrap my head around some of this stuff. The following is a round up of videos I’m watching to try to understand it better!

ETA: How Could I Forget to link Satyendranath Bose?
The Bose behind Boson Β 

More links:
What the ‘Rock Star’ Discovery of the Higgs Boson Means for Science (hat tip to Christine K)
From Minute Physics
Is it the Higgs Boson?Β 
Higgs boson Science explained using sugar and ping-pong ballsΒ 
Michio Kaku on CNN

And some whimsical info too! πŸ™‚
Sonnet on a Higgs-like Particle (Vi Hart)

Science Journey: Ages 4 to 9

I recently answered a question about homeschooling science on the Living Science Yahoo Group. I decided to record it here to help me to remember what we did for science when kiddo was younger. I find myself forgetting things so easily with so much on my mind. While blogging is increasingly becoming the last thing I am able to attend to when I’m free, I am still grateful I have this blog as a memory-holder.

“Explain to me how you define “living science”. What does it look like in your home? What is your philosophy and how do you apply it?”

Answer (edited yahoo group post for grammar where I could, and added details, links and photos):

It will look different for everyone. Here’s what it looks like in our home.

Ages 4-5: I had no idea what a living book was but did wonder if my son could lead our science studies based on curiosity alone (all those why questions that never stopped had to amount to something right?). So that’s we did. We just answered his questions. And he did quite a lot of collecting! He collected leaves and rocks and observed birds and tried to mimic their calls. We did this on “nature walks” while living in a busy apartment community in the middle of a busy city. He did a preschool science class at the local community center where they studied slimy things, flight, weather and so on using simple kits. We grew lima beans. We tried categorizing the leaves and rocks he had collected. He also “collected” clouds, planets and nebulas, and scientists! He would intensely “study” them then mentally file them away and move on to the next interest. Then at about 4.5yo he was obsessed with death and diseases so he voraciously consumed information on the human body and names of diseases and tried diagnosing every little thing.

I lelped him with experiments (we didn’t do many, just a few key ones) or did demonstrations for him. I sometimes checked books out from the library and always found a couple that were much more interesting, beautifully illustrated and just so much more rich and worth our time than others.

I only later discovered that this is basically what living books are. Wonderfully written, usually by a single author who is very passionate about the subject. Not dry, or by committee. We tried a number of curricula written for homeschoolers, found them lacking (or requiring too much tweaking to work that it didn’t make sense) and just went back to working with the living books to supply information and ideas for experiments where he wanted them. He read some books over and over. We supplemented with a lot of dinner table discussions. And Curious George. πŸ™‚

A basic DNA extraction lab

Ages 5-8: I learned about the Charlotte Mason method and living books as the name to describe the well-written books we were using. I found the CM method wonderful but not the best fit for how my son likes to learn.

However, the living books themselves were working so well for him that we continued using these, and our home library grew and grew. I added The Happy Scientist videos ($20/year membership) and documentaries galore. We added science kits where available/ interested.

David Attenborough’s Life of/ Life in (Mammals, Cold Blood, Undergrowth etc) series was especially well loved. Son developed an intense interest in chemistry so we took that bunny trail for a long, long time with more living books and mass market books and a class or two, and finally a twice-a-month group class that continues to this day (ask me how to set this up if interested).

Made a glider using a kit

We like integrated learning. While chemistry was going on we continued to watch life science themed shows, did a few nature-themed classes, discussed a lot of physics with physics-loving dad, and created a few projects, usually something to do with physics, and with magnets and also followed another intense interest in diseases, viruses etc.

We are amateur (very!) stargazers when there’s a chance. We watched a lot of PBS/Quest/NOVA astronomy shows. We “video/ book-stalked” science celebrities: we adored Neil deGrasse Tyson, then Brian Greene, then Oliver Sacks (and visited a neuroscience lab too). We listened to a number of Naxos audiobooks for children about scientists and inventors. Took field trips/ road trips where we could (fell in love with red rock formations for a bit).

Age 9: We are continuing the above but at a slightly higher level now (e.g. using a higher level kit for chemistry such as the one in the picture under this post’s title). And it works beautifully. There are areas he is ignorant about (gaps galore!) and that’s fine with me but if it’s not fine with you, maybe you could do a little gentle goal-setting to see what is important to you for your child to know by what age. There’s a book called Home Learning Year by Year by Rebecca Rupp that will give you an idea of the usual “what to do by when” stuff. There is also What Your First Grader Needs to Know and others in the Core Knowledge series by Hirsch that could provide a simple guideline.

Basic electrolysis lab

My philosophy? I tell my son to have fun and let his passion consume him and to try to do it by himself because honestly, his mom is no help when it comes to science lol. But in the end, it looks too tempting for me to watch from the sidelines and I have a go at it with him too. For a while, I agreed to be an unschooler with science. This year, we took a more structured approach, using a distance ed science class because we think it will help him answer a lot of questions he has and also build a good work ethic.

Another family may find that using an even more structured approach or a particular curriculum or two works best for them with living books as supplements; still another family could be more into nature exploration, allowing nature studies to lead their learning adventures with art, sketching, real-life observation and discussion and experimenting being the focal points instead of doing all the sciences at once or living books being the focal point. It really depends what your particular bent is. You’ll find it developing as you get into it.


  1. Start one step at a time. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Everything starts with those little baby steps.
  2. Have a nice big whiteboard to jot down thoughts, questions and discussion topics…for yourself and your child(ren).
  3. Start collecting everything you can find for free or cheap for science experiments. I have cabinets and drawers full of empty bottles, rubber bands, paperclips, string, cardboard, thread spools etc for experiments. It was hard at first to look for things to experiment with but now, after 5+ years of collecting I now have a good amount of things we don’t have to run out for if an experiment idea pops up. πŸ™‚
  4. Ask questions yourself. Model the “let’s find out” habit for your child. It’s okay if you don’t know the answers. You can google a source and then google another source to verify your first source and it will lead to some interesting discoveries in the process. You will also be teaching your child to question and double-check answers and not trust every answer too easily.
  5. Scientific method can be introduced early. A good book to read together when your child is ready: How To Think Like A Scientist by Stephen Kramer.
  6. Don’t sweat the writing if your child is reluctant to write. Unless there are learning issues or disabilities, it will usually fall into place. You can always scribe for your child.

Note: The living science books we used are listed both on this blog and in the Files section of the Living Science Yahoo Group website.

Free Finds!

A quick round-up of free resources found recently on my web travels (I have forgotten how I found some of these so please forgive me if I don’t mention all my sources).

  • Astronomy buffs, be sure to check out this introductory astronomy course from Starship Asterisk!Β 
  • Kiddo is a fan of Arthur Benjamin, he of the charming grin and sprite-like enthusiasm in the Secrets of Mental Math lectures. We researched Harvey Mudd College where Prof. Benjamin teaches, and found Mudd Math Facts, a library of fun math puzzles and articles.
  • Biology Online: Nice shockwave animations here on biochemistry and organic chemistry topics.

Randomly Recent

Snapshots from inside and around the house this week:

Calla lilies reappear this year, looking pretty.

My reading assignments in preparation for a Coursera course.

Loving my new double-burner griddle.

New tile patterns keep popping up in front of the fireplace…those math manipulatives are being used!

Goofy math review with AoPS.

Only a day on Millie (my treadmill)? Oh Nooooo!

Kiddo’s Sidney Harris addiction intensifies.Β 

Physics continues but may be delayed if kiddo takes a summer math class.

More buckyball sculptures in the making.

Reading and Listening To…


The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, narrated by Sean Runnette
We listened to the unabridged audio book in April and I’m so glad I chose audio over print.

Prime Curios!: The Dictionary of Prime Number Trivia by Chris Caldwell could soon eclipse kiddo’s previous favorite math trivia tome, Number Freak. He is also enjoying Here’s Looking at Euclid by Alex Bellos. He doesn’t read these in any sequence. He savors them like you would a small and exquisite piece of expensive Belgian chocolate. He runs to google a little fact every few minutes or pulls out his math notebooks to create patterns from what he reads, forgets about them for a couple of weeks and then pores over them all over again, sometimes spreading all of them out in front of him at the same time.


The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and The Lion’s Paw by Robb White were read alouds that we both loved.

I managed a good bit of a British accent reading aloud The Secret Garden. Who says watching Downton Abbey doesn’t help? The Lion’s Paw is an adventure story about three children, aged 15, 12 and 9, who run, err, I mean sail away on a sloop to search for a sea shell, the lion’s paw. We started every morning by reading it beside our new backyard pool and learned a bit about sailing and catching alligators! πŸ˜‰Β 

Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat is a hoot of a tale about a boy with two pet owls, with echoes of Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals (only, Billy’s family is not as eccentric).

Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes were free reads. He enjoyed reading about the Don much more than I thought he would and he keeps regaling me (I haven’t caught up with reading DQ yet) with what the Don or Sancho did. Yes, DQ is rather PG-13 in case you are wondering but the kiddo was just so ready for the story that I closed my eyes to the various libidinous references and agreed to let kiddo have a go at reading it.

Me: I just finished To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I have read it once before in my teens but the references did not make a full impact at the time. Having read it a second time, I realize I just can’t do this book justice in a few lines. It deserves an entire post of its own.

I absolutely loved it.

I am going to persuade kiddo to name our future pets (if we have any) Atticus and Boo. That is, if he doesn’t choose Hobbes and Snoopy first.


Reading aloud The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne and a thrift store find, If Only They Could Talk by James Herriot. Listening in the car: Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery, narrated by Kate Burton.

A Quick 2012 Half-Year Learning Review

Yes, we’re still homeschooling! I know it’s been a while since I posted an academic update. I just haven’t been able to keep up with these updates as much as I’d like to.

Kiddo’s fourth grade year is officially over according to our charter school. But since his two core subject classes began in January, we are just going to keep plugging away over summer (at a slower pace), into the first semester of fifth grade in the fall and possibly beyond, in spring 2013 too.Β 
Our 2012 curriculum choices are quite successful so far (but don’t be surprised if six months from now, things look very different!). He chose most of the resources after I listed some options based on his interests and ability level:

Geometry with his Online Tutor is his favorite core course this year! Going very slowly but very steadily too (according to his tutor, this is good for his math stamina; but it is not good for impatient mom).

Physics with Derek Owens: Kiddo loves the lectures and practice videos but the homework and tests are hard work. Still, he’s managing this on his own so far. This and German are his first officially graded courses.

Irasshai Japanese I: His favorite elective. He’s finished half of Japanese I and is currently reviewing the 30+ lessons using the Irasshai workbook.

German Online German I: He’s able to lead, read and understand simple (and silly!) German conversations. Three more chapters to the end of German I.

Literature and Philosophy discussions with:

Β  Β 

Philosophy lessons are read one or two at a time and included into daily conversations. Kiddo has read the lit titles and we’ll listen to the audiobook versions in the car in the coming weeks. We discuss interesting bits as the opportunity comes up but without emphasis on mechanics or analysis for now.

History and Other: History happens on an extremely random basis here. History through math and science is so much more eagerly embraced than history through curriculum. We periodically read aloud from well-written children’s books (mostly fiction) and listen to audiobooks too…I’m hoping kiddo is soaking something up from there.

Kiddo also finished a three-week audit of Introduction to Cryptology with Coursera. He wanted to work on it himself in the evenings and finished half the course at a slower pace.

ETA: Piano and swimming continue with the former being a hit and the latter being in between hit and miss. Kiddo participated in a jazz band program for six weeks in spring and even sang lead vocals for one song!

I’d love to read your school year reviews if you’ve written them. Please link to them when commenting.

Happy summer everyone!

Doing What You Love

Tried TED-Ed yet? Kiddo and I took advantage of some of the fun videos and animations to fill up a lazy evening. The video that really caught our eye, captivated our hearts and caused us to laugh out loud in delight was Aparna Rao’s High-Tech Art (with a sense of humor).

Here’s the video if you haven’t seen it.

Wouldn’t it be awesome to do something like this for the rest of your life?

The PorsandRao Website.

The Backyard Pond Project Part II

The backyard pond is taking shape!

I like how it is merging seamlessly with the rest of the pebbled theme. The boys have installed the water fountains by cleverly diverting power supply from one of the outdoor lights. Hubby has to figure out how to conceal some of the piping, wiring and other details.

Both guys are brainstorming the pond decor. We want some low flowering plants at the front and possibly a swinging seat somewhere nearby (with lots of shade I hope) for me to enjoy their creation while reading and sipping iced coffee! πŸ™‚

The Backyard Pond Project series of posts: Part I, Part II and Part III.