Frustrating The Educational Powers-That-Be Since August, 2009

Yep. Today was the day.

Our first official “not back to school day.”  Our introductory foray into the real, true world of interest-led learning. 

Thanks to Jena, over at Yarns of the Heart, I felt “called” all last year to move away from structured curriculum, and move toward releasing the learning into the hands of my very bright, capable kiddos.

We researched a lot last year.  And read together the Teenage Liberation Handbook.  And I sat at Jena’s virtual feet as she waxed eloquently about entrusting her three wonderful kids with their own goals and passions.

Then I decided to go for it!

And yes, I know it is ridiculous to need a starting point for learning, but we love our traditions around here in Topsy-Techieland, so we had an official starting date for our dive into the deep end of the pool of interest-led learning…and today was the day!

Interestingly, both boys decided over the summer to keep a structured curriculum for math.  H-T has always loved the math at Time4Learning, and he decided to continue on with that course…he also wants to continue with the Time4Learning American history lessons (I can’t blame him a bit…they are SO much fun!).  Uber found an online curriculum for geometry that he really felt suited him, so he’s working his way through that as well.

Otherwise, today was structure-free!  Each of the boys has quite a few interests they are excited to sponge up info on:

Uber: Learning Japanese, continuing piano lessons, studying Ancient Chinese culture, getting a grip on informational technology, and creating a nature journal.

H-T: His current interests are cryptozoology (I had to have him explain what in the heck that one was to me), Spanish, dog behavior, watching B-Horror flicks and reviewing them online, and continuing with guitar lessons

They are also keeping ongoing journals of what they are learning (my suggestion thanks to my writer instincts).  Today we spent a lot of time at the library finding books that matched their interests, and looking up websites and searching the Netflix catalog for good supplementary materials.  The rest of the time I hardly saw them –  they were deep into…well…learning, I suppose.

So, by simply surviving this day, I guess we’ve already gone a long way toward frustrating the educational powers-that-be, eh? 

This is going to be a very interesting journey……


That’s What She Said

I can’t say I’m a regular viewer of the show “The Office.”  I’ve probably seen maybe four or five full episodes, and maybe snippets of at least five more.  But the characters and the catch phrases have become part of the current culture, so that even if you have never viewed a single episode, you still might have a good clue as to who “Jim and Pam” are, or be able to respond to a general statement with the thinly disguised sexual innuendo: “That’s What She Said.”

I got to experience a little of THE OFFICE life myself this week as I headed down to Ft. Lauderdale to visit the headquarters of Time4Learning – – the company I have been contracting with for theTime4Learning Logo last few years.  Time4Learning CEO, John Edelson, invited me down to see how things work on their end, and because many of their different websites and programs are aimed at homeschoolers, he thought it was a good idea to let the employees get some face time with a long-time homeschooler who could give them the beef about exactly what is up with us strange folk.  😉 

So…I headed down to the Sunshine State prepared for some heat, humidity, and some invaluable experiences.  And I got a lot of each!  I discovered that in FL in the summer you are always on the run.  You RUN from your air conditioned house to your garaged car, then RUN from your air conditioned car to your air conditioned office, then you RUN from your air conditioned car to your blazing hot car, which you desperately try to air condition on your way back to the comforts of home.  You MIGHT spend five minutes or more of time outside IF there is a pool involved.  Otherwise, you simply sit by the air conditioner until October and hope for the best. 

Since I’m normally quite an out-of-doors addict, you would think this would have been a problem for me, but the folks at Time4Learning made me feel so welcomed, and were so thoroughly awesome, that I barely paid attention to the sweat filling up my bra each day (hey, I’ve always wanted to try one of those water bras, anyway!)

I have no idea if anyone’s office is like the one portrayed on television, but if even 10% of America’s offices were like the one at Time4Learning, we would have the world’s happiest work force.  This was an amazing team of people who have an incredibly diverse group of talents, and work together like a professionally oiled machine while still remaining upbeat, cooperative, and friendly. 

I was wined.  I was dined.  I got to work near some of the greatest visionaries in educational technology today.  And I even walked the beach. 

It was a BIG deal.

That’s what she said.

Looking for a Tour Guide?

The Topsies have company!  In what is an absolutely appropriate turn of events for a tech-geek, Uber developed a relationship with one of his classmates at the virtual reality school he has attended the last couple of years.  He and she became really close over this school year and began “dating” online sometime after the holidays.

I’ve watched in awe and fascination as her name came up in conversation over and over again, and he seemed to know as much about her as if she had grown up next door to him all his life.  This online dating is an interesting thing because the constant conversations that are required to maintain it mean that the dating couple probably get to know each other far better, at least in some respects, than couples who live in the same town!

Anyway, this young lady lives approximately four states away, but her mom was willing and eager to drive the ten hour trek from her state to ours and bring her for a week-long visit so these two could finally meet in person.  And that has been the excitement of the summer for Uber and the rest of the Topsies!

Because they have never visited NC before, we have had the most wonderful time showing them around our waterfalls, small-town shops, and mountain overlooks.  As if I didn’t appreciate the beauty of our area enough, it has been incredible seeing it through the eyes of folks who usually breathe only the smoggy air of the big city. 

I find that the Topsies have a talent I was unaware of until now…tour guides, extraordinaire!  We have so much pride in our natural beauty here that I guess it just spills out of us as we lead our guests through the paces of mountain life. 

So if you are struggling to come up with your next vacation spot, I have an inside source on a personalized tour.   For the right amount of flattery, I’ll put you right at the top of the docket for the next round of official “Tours With The Topsies!!”

Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints – Summer Brain Boosters

summerToday is our last official day of homeschool for the year, and we are  ready to celebrate by vegging out for three months.  Only problem?  Our brains turn to mush when we aren’t exercising them. Mine is probably much worse than the boys – – I can practically watch my brain cells slough off and fall out my ears if I don’t keep myself mentally stimulated.

If your family is similar to ours, then you might appreciate some of the following ideas for keeping the ole educational nerve endings greased up – – the techie way, of course.

Time4Learning offers a way for kids to keep their minds sharp AND entertained with their summer learning program.  And Time4Writing continues to offer writing classes throughout the summer as well, with courses in sentence writing, paragraph writing, essay writing, and basic mechanics. 

The Wii offers some excellent opportunities for educational fun over the dog days of summer.  Two games coming out this summer that look like winners are: Science Papa, a virtual science lab featuring 30 different experiments and Space Camp, where you are an aspiring astronaut in training. has a good list of additional Wii games that can be considered educational, as well.

But you don’t have to pay the big bucks to get some educational fun out of Wii this summer.  All you need is a Wi-Fi connection and your Wii remote.  Arcademics Skills Builders has taken some of their best online games and made them optimized for the Wii.  So if you can navigate to their website using your Wii Browser, you can play games like Meteor Multiplication and Verb Viper for free! (

If you have a rising tech-geek in your family, you might be interested in iD Tech computer camps.  Based in over 60 universities around the country, these camps specialize in video game design, 3D modeling, robotics, web design and digital graphics.  There is probably one near you!  But they fill up fast, so register as soon as possible.

What’s that you say? You actually want your children to go OUTSIDE this summer??  Well, if you’re that type of parent, then I guess it can’t be helped.  But you might be interested in stopping by the Kid’s Valley Garden first, to brush up on all the ins and outs of those veggies, herbs, and flowering things that you’ll be (*gasp*) interacting with out there in the real world. 

As for me, I’ll be taking a break from Friday’s HHH for a couple months myself…   But not to worry.  I’ll keep my brain from turning to mincemeat SOMEHOW. 


Friday’s Hardwired Homeschool Hints: Online Curriculum Choices

fridays hardwired homeschool hints pic

I’m a member of several homeschool Yahoo groups, and someone posted a question today that really surprised me.  Her daughter was obsessed with the computer, and she was wondering whether there were any homeschool curricula out there that were computer based.  After reading the question, I did one of those classic Scooby-Doo double takes.   Say raht??

I tend to forget that not everyone is already aware of the great online options homeschoolers have for learning.  So I’m dedicating today’s Friday’s HHH post to those out there who just might be looking for some more info on online homeschool curriculum.

One of the curricula that I have consistently been bowled over by is Time4Learning.  This is an online multimedia program for grades Pre-K through 8.  With T4L, the lesson planning is all taken care of, and the record-keeping is done for you, so you can concentrate on simply supporting your child’s love of learning.  I’ll never forget the first day we started using the curriculum and I heard my son guffawing from the bedroom.  His language arts lesson actually had him in stitches!  This is my son’s third year with the program, and I am still every bit as impressed.  The American History course he is taking this year is the most comprehensive and interactive romp through history I have ever encountered!  Check out my Time4Learning page for more about the experiences we have had with this outstanding (and affordable) curriculum.

Our oldest son also has had really positive experiences with online homeschooling.  He is currently enrolled in a private online school called Wilostar 3D Academy.  The idea behind this accredited program is that you attend your classes via an avatar who interacts for you.  The highlight of the curriculum is the collaborative aspect of it.  Classmates work together to create 3D projects based on the subjects they are studying.  Conferences are held daily to bring the students together to discuss what they are learning, as well.  This is the perfect school option for my homeschooled social butterfly who thinks this is definitely the next best thing to hanging out in the halls with his “buds.”

These are the two online programs that I have the most personal experience with, but there are plenty of other choices for online learning as well.  Check out some of the below options for technology-based home education:


Romans and Tire Pressure and Zombies…Oh My!

One thing I nearly never do on my blog is regale you with details about what we are studying in homeschool.  Mostly, that’s because when other homeschool bloggers do it, I tend to nod off for a minute.  Not that it isn’t important – – because it IS!  But somehow the excitement of a homeschool lesson is one of those things where, well, “you had to be there,” I guess.

But we’re at the end of our first “semester”, and I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed nostalgic about all that we’ve covered so far this year.  So granted, this is probably more for my sake than yours, but I’m gonna lay it out there.  If nothing else, it will justify my existence as a homeschool mom.

Uber, as you may remember, is in his second year at the 3D virtual school called Wilostar 3D Academy.  He attends class via avatar, and uploads his assignments to his teachers.  First semester of 9th grade at Wilostar includes Ancient Civilization, 9th grade Integrated Language Arts, and Art.  Wilostar uses an integrated learning model, so that what you are studying in social studies or history is tied in with your literature assignments in Language Arts.  He covered everything from Ancient Egypt, to Ancient Rome, to Ancient China, and Ancient Africa.  And to supplement his studies he has read the following novels: Pharaoh’s Daughter, The Golden Goblet, Inside the Walls of Troy, and Siddhartha.self_portrait One of the highlights of the semester, of course, was his virtual performance in the story of King Midas.

For art, he has created a complete online portfolio, which I think is a really cool idea.  Using the DK Art Book as his text, he has learned about, and experimented with: shading, distance, pastels and color mixing, perspective, texture, shape and form, cartooning, and self-portraiture (see right).

In addition to his online work, Uber was also subjected to my self-designed Life Skills course.  Determined that no child of mine will head out to university or the working world without at least knowing how to check the tire pressure in a vehicle, I have put Uber through the paces of personal finance, character ed, automobile maintenance, job skills, and public transportation. Next semester is cooking and cleaning and sewing on buttons (basically home-ec, but let’s keep that little title between us, k?)

This is only Uber’s “official” education, though. That kid seems to be learning about something 24/7.  He has taught himself 3D-modeling, graphic design using Photoshop, hex-editing, and creating and designing his own trading cards. He is also slowly working on a fantasy drama novel.

Hyper-Techie (H-T) has had a busy semester as well.  He uses the Time4Learning online homeschool curriculum, and has been breezing right through math and language arts this year.  Geometry is his strong suit (not too surprising for a right-brainer), and he has made 100 on almost every geometry quiz so far!  T4L has an incredible 7th grade American History course that is animated and interactive.  I’m so jealous!  And we are supplementing that with a cool electronic field trip curriculum from Colonial Williamsburg, where we long to take a family trip one day.

H-T doesn’t stop there though.  I created my own earth science curriculum for him which involves lots of videos on Discovery’s United Streaming. We are working through the Saxon Phonics Intervention program, which is helping incredibly with the spelling troubles he deals with due to his dyslexia.  And he is also logo-final taking guitar this year and is just beginning to learn his very first song.  H-T needs to get his hands dirty, so to speak, and guide his own learning somewhat, so he is currently spending a little time each day on “social skills” – – interacting on the Fusefly social network for homeschooled kids.  He has made some pretty neat buddies online, actually.  And his current self-directed project is a screenplay B-Movie about zombies.  Thanks to a terrific online screenwriting program at, a finished screenplay is a very real possibility for a motivated 12-year-old!

Whew!  Oh my!

The main conclusion I’ve come to after this post?  We are SO ready for Christmas break!!!

You Weren’t Using That Were You?

We are a four computer family.  I know.  Shameful.  Wasteful.  Over the top.  But the truth is we really do use four computers.  At least most of the time.  The boys each cyberschool, so they need to haveH-Ts room 003 individual access to a computer during school days.  I work at home from my laptop, so it is basically just an extra appendage sticking out from my fingers at all times. And even R-T likes to know that the computer is there when he needs it.  His blog, for instance, has really taken off, and he has also discovered the addictive properties of Facebook. 

This computer consumerist mentality in Topsy-Techieland, however, creates its own set of challenges.  We tend to find that the grass is greener over on the other family member’s computer.

H-T’s computer is the oldest, and the graphics card just wasn’t designed to handle the latest games.  So when Dad isn’t home, he lays claim to the “man of the family’s” title and benefits.  In other words, finders keepers.

Now H-T’s computer happens to have all the finance software loaded on it.  So when H-T latches on to dad’s computer, I take the golden opportunity to hijack his desktop long enough to balance the checkbooks and find out how much deeper in debt we are than we were last week. 

Then Uber has a game that only seems to work on his computer, so when H-T wants a turn with that, Uber has to go looking for another device.  God help him if I’m working on the finances, dad is blogging, and my laptop is out of power.  At that point, he usually decides that his little brother doesn’t really deserve to play that game after all.  He will bring up some slight that H-T has never completely atoned for, and kicks him out of his chair and onto his computer-less butt. 

Throw in a little accordian music and you’ve got a geeky version of musical chairs. 

Doesn’t it make you wish you could come play? You’re welcome to visit anytime…just BYOC, of course.

Remember, just two more days to comment and get a chance to win that HP Printer.  If you’ve ever had anything to say in your life, NOW is the time to say it!!!!