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Saturday, February 06, 2016

Micro-Schools by Jade Rivera

In her new book Micro-Schools: Creating Personalized Learning on a Budget, you will get to know Jade Rivera: a progressive parent's dream in an educator and a coach. She has experience, expertise, intelligence, emotional connection, mindfulness, and best of all, she makes sure that children come first. 

I read Jade's book last night. As a homeschool mama and founder/organizer of a local gifted homeschool support group and coop, the topic of micro-schools is very important to me. It is one that I have tried to create on my own with my small community of dedicated homeschool mamas for a couple of years. It has not always been easy and I have only started to find what really works for us this past year.  If I had read Jade's book a few years ago, I would have gained years of experience in an hour. What a time saver!

I love that Jade shares her experiences (both good and bad) and even includes an "how-to" section. Here are some highlights of the book that speak to me of what Jade stands for:
"When it comes down to it, the programs are not about the lessons, but about the community and giving children the chance to learn on their own terms."
"Every accommodation you make, every chance to share power with a kid, will serve to enhance all of your lives."
"Moreover, given that many gifted children have highly developed needs for autonomy and control, the creation of a product designed solely to demonstrate learning can feel like a violation, especially if the product has specific requirements. They know what they know and see little need for demonstrating mastery for something as superficial as a grade or gold star. They crave individualized interaction with meaningful feedback that values their efforts and what they have created."
"Talk with your students— a lot— about what they like and do not like about learning. Ask them what worked for them in their previous placements and what failed. Do they see a difference between education and learning? Make this a collaborative process."
"Do not be tempted to hide your micro-school venture to avoid disapproving looks and ignorant comments. Get out there, loud and proud. Your future students need this. By taking a stand and creating the learning environment you know these children need, you could inspire many others to learn about gifted and twice-exceptional children."
"Along with monthly outings I suggest having a reoccurring presentation day. One morning a month or every other month ask the children to give a five- to 10-minute presentation on their individual projects or something they are working on outside of school. Parents and extended family should be invited to attend. Turn these days into little celebrations by bringing in treats and giving each student a small gift, like fun erasers or stickers with a card that lets them know how proud of them you are. I do not grade my students, so presentation day gives my students something tangible to work towards and a chance to show to their families what they have accomplished. Presentation day meets the need for accountability with much more integrity than a grade."

Are you a parent interested in alternative ways to educate your gifted children? Are you a homeschool parent to a gifted kid? Read this book! You will not only learn about the academic environment best for gifted kids, but also how to be emotionally connected with them. You will not only learn how to create a micro-school, but also how to make one that functions well. After reading the book, you may want to contact Jade directly. And you can! Here is her website and listing of services that she offers: 

When I first 'met' Jade, I was in awe of her awareness and passion for her work. And for the past few years, it has been my pleasure getting to know her as a friend and her work with gifted kids as Gifted Homeschoolers Forum colleagues.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Mama in the Kitchen Soap Shop: 100% Olive Oil Castile Soaps

When I was younger, my parents didn't know that I suffered from hand eczema. It wasn't that bad after all: it was just very rough all over. But I was embarrassed to hold anyone's hand. My superstitious Chinese grandmother would tell me, "This is not good. Your hands are too rough. You better put a lot of lotion on your hands. Rough hands is a sign that you'll end up working hard all your life!" You bet I slathered on Neutrogena very thickly but to no avail. Different balms and moisturizers did nothing to improve the condition. 

After childbirth, my hand eczema worsened. In addition to rough hands, I would get painful fissures: deep paper-like cuts all over my hands that made it very painful to wash my hands or even use my hands. In search of a solution to hand eczema, I discovered 100% olive oil Castile Soaps and how much my hands love them. We now use only 100% olive oil Castile Soaps at home. My family loves them and my hands are now smooth and soft like I've never had them before. Does that mean I won't have to work so hard in my life anymore? Tsk. Tsk.

Last year, I decided to make my own soap with the simplest and purest ingredients.

This year, I decided to open up shop and share my creations with everyone. 

a licensed manufacturer and retailer of soaps!


My soaps are handmade in small batches to ensure quality. They are cured for a couple of months to ensure gentleness.


Simplicity and purity are key: the less ingredients, the better.
No: Preservatives, Parabens, SLS, SLES, Unnatural Colours, Palm Oil.
Non-toxic and gentle on the environment.


If any of my soaps are scented, the smell is mild and not overpowering. I choose to use quality essential oils over fragrance oils when economical. When I do use fragrance oils, they are without parabens. Unlike strong perfume, my soaps do not give me a headache when I smell them.


No animal fats used.
Check it out!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Always Second Guessing Myself

I second guess myself most of the time. Am I doing a good job as a mother? Am I doing a good job as his homeschool teacher? Was that the right thing to do the other day? Why did I just do that? Why? 

Second guessing myself can make me feel bad, but I prefer to do it than not. As a mother, second guessing allows me improve myself, my son, and my relationship with my son. 

As a homeschool Mama, I want to do a good job. But some days are challenging and intense. I want to know what my options are. I want to know what resources are available for my son out there. I want to ask questions like: am I offering him the best education I can at home? If not, where can I get it? And as I write this, I am sitting at the local public school library waiting for my son to take the MAPS test. I want to see if public school is a possibility. What can they offer him?

As I am ready to publish this, my son has finished taking the MAPS and OLSATs. I know I have been doing a good job with his academics at home.  And yet, there are so many resources our local public school can offer him too. Now to decide what to do.

Do you frequently second guess yourself too? I would love to hear about it!

I am participating in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum October 2015 Blog Hop: The Highs and Lows of Gifted Parenting. Check out the other amazing GHF bloggers!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Does Testing Validate a Parent's Gifted Assessment?

Through my own observations, I have determined that my son is an asynchronous learner. What's more, I have been blogging about our gifted homeschool for more than a handful of years. Sometimes, I questioned myself and the assessments I, subjectively or objectively, made of my own son. Sometimes, I have felt like a poser.

GEEK material: my son battled against teens and adults and won third place at the Barnes and Nobles Doctor Who Trivia Night this year. 

Every parent believes their child is amazing and incredible, right? Right.

This year, I decided that it was time for a professional cognitive assessment. I wanted more information. I wanted to learn more about my son's weaknesses and strengths. I wanted to avail of more appropriate resources as my elementary aged kid progresses more rapidly into middle school academics. Our tester seemed to think he did really well on the test, but my son confessed to me that he had a really difficult time. His response made me all the more anxious about his results. What I learned after two weeks of anticipation was surprising: not only was my son gifted, but I clearly underestimated his level of giftedness.

Every parent believes their child is more amazing and incredible than they are, right? Wrong. I totally misjudged my son's level of giftedness.

Naturally, my son wanted to know his results. He has heard a little about his scores from a few professionals and we made him part of the application process to a few gifted programs, but he does not know exactly what that means and what his exact scores are. At home, we downplay the results of the test. Instead, we tell him how happy we are with his scores. We also tell him that the test informs us of his weakness areas and gives us the opportunity to better them. We tell him that there is more to him than his IQ score: we also need to be kind, honest, responsible, loyal, generous, disciplined, hard-working, humane, creative, to have a sense of humor, to learn how to work and get along with others, and more.

My son recording for his vlog at an aquarium.
Would I have my son tested if I had to do it over again? Yes. I learned a lot more about him than I thought I would.

Is testing so important? No, I don't think so, but if you want more detailed information about your child, then I would recommend it. As his home educator, I believe learning about his weaknesses gives me information about what we need to work on. Likewise, his strengths gives me insight about how his mind works.

Do I now feel validated as a GHF blogger? Yes. But the more I seem to know about my son and his giftedness, the less I seem comfortable about blogging about it.

Does my son understand his giftedness? It's a work in progress, but I want to say that he didn't need a test to understand himself better. With our help, he works on it everyday.

I am participating in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum October 2015 Blog Hop: Discovering the Depth and Breadth of Giftedness. Check out the other amazing GHF bloggers!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Top FREE 7 Tips to Parenting and Homeschooling an Asynchronous, Self-Directed Child on a Shoestring

These are SEVEN tips our family has found invaluable to our homeschool lives. Except for internet at home which we pay for, the rest of these things on our list can be available for FREE. 

1. Library. Without our library, we calculated that we would spend around $1,000/month on various media alone.
    • free books and audio books 
    • free stuff on Kindle too
    • free movies on Hoopla
    • free music on Freegal
    • free video games
    • free space to hang out
    • free resources and meet ups
2. Internet. Home to Google, YouTube, Online Presence, Networking, and Social Media.
    • Google:
      • research on the spot
      • free visual images 
      • endless online resources
      • create tabs for your child's favorite spots on the internet 
    • YouTube:
      • free videos on demand
      • subscribe to educational channels
    • Online Presence:
      • depending on your family, you may want to have an online presence
      • for kids who love tinkering
      • my son loves to blog and is currently most excited about vlogging
      • my son also receives FREE books in exchange for honest video book reviews 

    • Network and Social Media:
      • join groups that help you and your child
      • follow organisations to learn about recent studies and news on parenting and education issues
      • my favorite is GHF, of course. Disclaimer: I volunteer over there because I love the organisation so much. Did you know we reach over 700,000 individuals a month?
3. Local Community Resources. Many programs are free to homeschoolers! Many have homeschool days.

Our FREE Police and K9 field trip.
That's a Cayote about 5-10 feet away from us at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. We saw and/or touched many animals on a FREE 4 hour field trip.
    • check out your local outreach programs. If they go to public schools for free, they will offer their services to homeschool groups too. We've had field trips to the Police and K9 teams, Fire Station, Forensics Lab, and more. Want to meet wild animals up close in personal? This doesn't mean just the zoo, you can visit local ecology labs or pet shelters.
    • museums. If the entrance fee is not free, then programs may be free or fairly priced ($5/kid for 3 hour programs where I live).
    • theatre. If your kid is the theatrical type, let him/her audition for a role. If you get it, the theatre education is FREE and priceless.
A Pizza Restaurant Field Trip.
    • restaurants. Check out their kitchen, operations, and dine in for cheap (our field trip above was $5/kid to make your own pizza and eat it with a drink too). 
    • the list is endless. 

4. Homeschool Coop. If there isn't one you like, start one. While many coops require fees, I started a FREE project based homeschool coop. The beauty of a PBH coop for asynchronous learners is the creation of a passion-based community of kids:

    • yup... you can create one for FREE
      • meet at a park
      • meet at a church that requires only a donation
      • make sure families ALL contribute to the existence and maintenance of the coop

    • kids in a Project Based Homeschool classes do not have to be at the same level of learning
      • multi-ages are welcome
      • individualized topics are allowed
      • sharing with peers creates deep dialogue and sparks interests
      • less teaching required from parents and more active learning from students
      • weeding those who don't fit in the group is a very quick process: some families prefer instruction and rote learning
      • our popular classes/events have been: LEGO, DIY, Debate, TEDEd, Project Fairs

5. Clubs. Depending on your child's interest, join one or start one.

My son wanted to start a Pokemon Club. So we did. Who knew it would be so popular?
    • most are free 
    • your kid will want to join 
    • their interest will grow in ways you don't anticipate
    • you will watch in amazement how your kid interacts with others who have the same interests
6. Park Days with other families. Organize one near you.
    • meet at a park, NOT your house (less clean up for you that way)
    • your child can meet friends 
    • your child can experience new situations in a safe and understanding environment
    • parents can create a vibrant community for their families
7. Free Services from organisations like the Davidson Young Scholars. HG/PG tested kids are accepted. While many gifted programs require fees, DYS services are FREE:
    • academic support and educational advocacy
    • talent development, college planning and early college
    • child and adolescent growth

I am participating in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum September 2015 Blog Hop: Parenting Gifted/2E Kids on a Shoestring.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Slow Homeschool Training for a Fast Mama

I’m a FAST worker: I have a list and I conquer it quickly. Then I’m happy when I’m “done”. 

My son, on the other hand, takes his SWEET TIME. He is not “done” when something has been checked off his list, rather, it is the full absorption and focus of what he is presently learning that is important. It could take forever. I guess, sooner or later, we were bound to have a homeschool scheduling conflict.

It has always surprised me when I hear friends tell me that their homeschool kids complete their work in 2 hours. HOW is that possible? 

For the past year, I have felt like our homeschool day dragged too long. I had so many other “things” to do. I needed to cook. I needed to shower. I needed to run a couple of errands. I wanted to check Facebook. Heck, I wanted to blog! Why couldn’t we just fly through our homeschool day? Why couldn’t we just quickly transition from one subject to another? Every day, I would eventually get really frustrated and tell my son to “Be Quick!” Unfortunately, forcing my kid to hurry up ultimately created a lot of stress in our homeschool day and hindered his progress. 

In the end, I realized I was imposing my will on how my son naturally learned. Why indeed must his homeschool take only 2 hours? What was wrong with taking more time for his homeschool? Wasn’t it wonderful that he was so absorbed and involved in his learning? I was obviously preoccupied with my own needs and wants, not his. Instead of encouraging his pursuits, I was stifling them by rushing him. It was a flawed cycle that I needed to break. Homeschooling my son, after all, is our family’s priority.

So I decided:

  • I would LET HIM PLAN our homeschool day first thing every morning. Yup. I was relinquishing ALL control over the schedule. We would discuss what he wanted to accomplish each day. We would follow his plan for the day. 
  • I would not impose a time frame on any of his subjects or projects but I would ask him BEFOREHAND how much time he wanted to dedicate to each.

The results? Pretty surprising:
  • He transitions between subjects or projects more easily and quickly than before. Following his own plan motivates him to move forward. (Surprise, surprise!)
  • Some days, homeschool doesn’t take as long. Some days, it takes longer. Some days, we both enjoy it without frustration. Some days, this Mama still needs to keep her frustration in check.
  • My son’s attitude toward our homeschool day has changed for the better. He is more inspired, energized, and stimulated. I can see how much my son enjoys his SLOW homeschooling. 
  • I am learning more about how my son wants to learn and how:
    • He prefers to do ALL his subjects every homeschool day rather than do them a few times a week. 
    • He doesn’t like assigning the same amount of time per subject every day. 
    • He chooses to dedicate about an hour each morning to his DIY projects. The sense of purpose and happiness this hour brings to our homeschool day is immense and irreplaceable. 
The Independent Kid's Harry Potter Monster Book of Monsters with a SAFE inside.

    • His interests have blossomed and his independent self-directed learning has deepened in ways I never anticipated.
This is a purely self-directed project over and above what we do for science everyday. After 2 weeks of tinkering around with Brian Cox's Wonders App, my son drew and wrote some of his notes for his upcoming Science Fair Project. His project is entitled "If I were an Astronaut, where would I go?" He has been learning more everyday in preparation for his 10 minute presentation.
  • I am present for these amazing daily moments and I am choosing to enjoy the process with him. With my camera and my Project Based Homeschooling (yes, click on that link!) notebook in hand, I document his progress and I am prioritizing my son’s education. Just as it should be!
One of his entries in his Grateful Journal.
    Almost E.V.E.R.Y. night since I allowed him the freedom to SLOW down, my son confides in me:

    “Mama, thank you for not rushing me. I loved school today. It was so much fun! I LOVE my projects!” 

    To my fellow FAST Mamas, do your kids prefer SLOW homeschooling? What are you doing in your homeschool to accommodate their intrinsic approach to learning?

    Monday, May 18, 2015

    Happy Quirks of Perfectionism in a Young Asynchronous Boy

    When my 2 year old son discovered that he wrote one letter of his name backwards, he threw himself on the floor and howled for 30 minutes. It was an unbelievable and uncontrollable temper tantrum. Nothing I did consoled him and I felt just as defeated. But since that first outburst, I have learned that perfectionism comes with happy quirks too.

    1. There is a place for everything and everything is in its place. 

    My son has always had his own meticulous sense of order. 

    2. The passion is intense and obsessive. And long-term.

    As Marianne Kuzujanakis states in her must-read post Unstoppable, "It is without question a hunger. A devouring of information and experiences. An unstoppable force of nature."

    For my son, this means an obsession with actors and the performance arts. When he was 3 years old , he confided in an immigration officer that his real name was "Michael Jackson".

    Since then, his pretend play developed into acting on stage. In the last three years, he has appeared as an Oompa Loompa in Willy Wonka, a Caroler Soloist in Bah Humbug, Charlie and the Pirate Ghost in the Headless Horseman, Noah Claypole in Oliver Twist, Michael Darling in Peter Pan, and in two local Improv and Comedy Sketch shows. When he is not acting in the theatre, he is taking an acting class or studying actors and their work. 

    In the recent few years, he has chosen to research on Rowan Atkinson, Matt Smith, Dana Carvey, Roy Rogers, Bruce Lee, and Johnny Depp for his Notables projects.

    3. "Test Me, Mama!" 

    There is an innate yearning to learn as much as he can on a subject of interest.

    My son started reading three letter words when we has 3 years old. Within months, he was reading chapter books on his own. He would often read something and ask, "Test me, Mama!" He wanted to show me that he completely understood something he read by himself. The clip below is my son reading a book aloud at 4 years old.

    This desire to be tested has not waned. He has always loved music and recently has enjoyed listening to the Doctor Who soundtrack. Soon enough, he asked me to "test" him on the different tracks. Although the theme music through the years sounded pretty similar to me, he found joy in being able to distinguish one from the other by year and Doctor. Check out the video below at 2:10 when I begin to test him.

    4. A Creator of Systems

    There is an intrinsic motivation to create something entirely original and new. In the video below, my son created the idea of an alien pet after he was told he could not have a real one. This project included origins, birth, stats, characteristics, etc.

    5. Jack of All Trades and Master of a Few.

    Perfectionists are excellent at many, many things because of their natural curiosity, interest, and determination. 

    6. Perfectionists are not People Pleasers.

    The Independent Kid prefers to have control over what he focuses on and how. Any suggestion otherwise brings on an intense struggle and unhappiness. Some days, this Little Rebel can be tough for his homeschool Mama. But there are also some days when I see him shine in ways I never thought he would and I can't help but be so proud of him.

    7. Perfectionists stand out in their own ways in different situations.

    While there are academic and performing achievements in my son's short history, a singular event stands out in my mind. Two years ago, we were eating out at a restaurant and my son saw a lady in her 60's eating by herself. He wrote her this note and asked a waitress to give it to her anonymously. It says "You look like a movie star in that shirt. From Superman."  

    What I've Learned

    While perfectionism offers many challenges, we often lose sight of its advantages. Let us remember that by celebrating these happy quirks, we allow our children to accept and delight in one of the fundamental parts of their being.

    I am participating in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum May 2015 Blog Hop: Perfectionism and Other Gifted/2E Quirks.