Category: Education

A Day in the Life 3: Unschool vs Traditional School– a Reminder to Self

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This past few weeks have been a time of waffling in regards to various areas of our lives. Shamus and I both have been too easily tossed in the winds as far as our decisions have gone, making a decision we feel God pulling us towards only to second guess a day later. I long to work through them here but some of them I can’t because they are too personal or would border on gossip. The school question, however, I am willing to put out there although I know some will not understand and may even judge me because of it. Before I explain let me tell you that in all of these questions of decision we have been waffling internally yet God is keeping us head on–giving us instant reminders as soon as we begin to waffle. Today was just such a day.

As I have mentioned before, we have a classroom in the basement set up in the traditional classroom style. It is especially good for Rachel to know it is there–it is a reminder that we are responsible for her education and that we take it seriously–even if most of her learning does not occur there. In fact, we haven’t used it in a few months–other than as an art studio where they set up shop with oils and acrylics while I worked on an oil painting.

So, if they haven’t done their workbooks in a few weeks what are they doing with themselves all day? How can they possibly be learning if they aren’t taught? Shamus and I had this very discussion this morning because he occasionally likes them to bring him a workbook page so he can see what they are learning. He is very open to the new style of teaching I have taken on but is nervous because he hasn’t seen any evidence. I suggested he ask them what they are learning or listen to their conversations to see if they are learning anything new. He agreed and went in to have a chat with them. (Because I am under PA tutor law instead of traditional homeschool law I am considered their primary educator–it is because I have a teacher’s certification and 5 years of college that I can do this but it also means that Shamus is not considered their “teacher”. He recognizes this and holds me accountable instead of taking over teaching–though he will likely teach them programming and higher math as they show interest.)

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So what did he find out and what have they been doing?

They spent all of yesterday decorating their room for Christmas. I put up an artificial tree in their room with lights and Christmas balls and handed them reams of construction paper, glue, tape, and scissors. They spent hours cutting and pasting making tons of paper chains and other decorations and taping them around their room. While two were doing that the other one was playing Fate–a D&D type computer game with NO plot. If you have never played D&D and are a Christian you are probably nervous. Don’t be. Most of the game consists of trying to catch different types of fish, fighting evil creatures, and leveling up so you can get better stuff. You have to earn and save money, make wise spending decisions, choose different armor and other items based on percentage bonuses (yes, all three are reading what they need to do and understand percentages and how different percentages of different bonuses affect different functions of their character. Believe me this is tricky stuff that I can barely wrap my brain around–harder than figuring out percent off sales when shopping by a long run because you have to take in multiple affects.) They also had to keep track of how long each child had been on the game to decide who’s turn it was next and Rachel spent a long time helping Issac figure out the basic reading and how percentages work–this had him going around the house reading plenty of other things.

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They also wrote me a grocery list of the items they felt we needed based on what each child liked to eat. They looked in each of the cupboards for things that were missing or that we only had one of and helped me plan the list by making their own. They had to look up spellings or sound out those they were unsure of. And if they wanted it it had to be on the list. (I am talking my big monthly shopping list here–not even a once a week list.)

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We have also been reading about 4 chapters or so of the Elyon books per day–me reading aloud as they old laundry (we were a bit behind on the laundry and this has gotten us caught up.) Issac has also been helping me figure out the colors for a new painting and how they go on the paper. This goes far beyond “what color is this” and into “what color do I need to add to get this to the exact right shade of red.” Also, Rachel taught herself how to make pie crust by messing the first one up and then making the second one right because she didn’t follow the instructions the first time–she made a pie for herself and one for her brother and sister (small ones.) She also took on rice making and several other recipes because I was busy on a project I need to finish up.

Add to that them listening to old radio shows and my old records, playing board games (we played Where in the USA is Carman Sandiego yesterday which degraded into “how fast can you find the state”–I was amazed to see how many Issac knew.) They also watched “Mythbusters” online last night–Rachel just listened and we discussed their ideas of what would and should work and how they tested their theories. There have been many more goings on–including the girls playing Fate while Issac and I went shopping.

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Issac and I had a huge discussion about God’s love for us and whether He loves us even when He allows bad things to happen–for a 6 year old he has a better grasp of this than many Christians. He also helped me keep track of the grocery budget, decide how many of each item we needed to last us a month, and loaded and unloaded the cart. When we returned home the girls put away what we had and helped decide what items we just weren’t eating and those will go to the food cupboard. Putting a month’s worth of groceries away is a big deal (especially for a family of 5) and requires much ingenuity of stacking and storing. :)) We are now off to visit our final grocery store and my grandmother, dropping things off at the food cupboard and picking up some work for myself.

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Writing it all down is a wonderful reminder of how much they are learning and growing and living. (And don’t worry about the video game–they will be sick of it in a few days and have some other project they are working on–they always do. I write this up to them having the freedom to play for long periods of time without someone complaining about it–when you are free to do something as long as you like you get thoroughly sick of it. Believe me, I know. :))

Finally–you may be wondering how God reminded me that the kids are growing and learning a lot? After our discussion this morning I went out. When I got home I suddenly had a slew of unschooling sites in my feed reader with posts about the benefits, including one that linked back to my previous “unschooling” post.

Oh yeah, I forgot.

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*The photos are all from this year–I haven’t had time to take pictures this week but these all reflect things the kids have done this week. 🙂

A Day in the Life 2: Getting Geeky and Learning to Play

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Today I set up two computers, with the help of my son. One is missing a sound card and a monitor but otherwise works–the other is all good. Yeah!!! We were suffering without a computer for the kids, and once we get a monitor (getting some through Freecycle–our extra is also on the blink) and I pick up a sound card we will have two computers for three kids, which is much better odds.

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When I realized that the first computer was missing a sound card and why (we had cannibalized it for another computer) I began searching our boxes of old computer stuff–I knew we had an old shrink wrapped Soundblaster card somewhere. I was thrilled when I found it. A brand new Soundblaster sound card–an oldy but goodie. However I was shocked when I checked the specs–Windows 3.1 with floppy disks. Hmmm. Shamus thought it would probably work so I opened it anyway.

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When I looked in the computer I realized we had a bit of a problem. This card was older than we thought–it had an Xt-bus instead of an ISA or PCI like the computer had. For those who have no clue what I am talking about–imagine trying to fit an old floppy disk in a cd rom drive or a European plug into an American outlet–no worky . This thing was OLD–an antique. Anyway from a geek point of view it was cool–awfully tempting to keep just because it was that old–from the late 80’s in fact. Instead I handed it to the kids and let them play with it. Yes, I let my kids play with an old Soundblaster card–they spent an hour pretending it was the map of a city and pretending that there were cars driving on it, etc. What is really funny is that someone is trying to sell one right now on Ebay for $135. It is nearly useless because it is such old technology (it cost nearly $100 new–no we didn’t buy it, it was given to us when a business was going to throw the old stuff out.) The kids had fun with it though and learned quite a bit about how and why it wouldn’t work with this computer.

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Now all I have to do is pick up the monitors from Freecycle, see if the guy with the monitors has any newer old sound cards lying around (all geeky people do–if not I will ask my dad, I know he has a few), and set the second computer up! I had considered making a monitor out of our old dead laptop but think the components to make it work would be too expensive for right now–think I will save that for a cool school project.

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The last leaves standing.

The kids had another geeky thing going on today. Aside from taking walks, playing board games, and reading aloud they made up a new game. It is based on the Zelda game but involved real children playing the characters and trying to sneak by while one child plays the guard. If you have never played a Zelda game this involves one person turning very slowly looking only forward as she turns and the other people trying to sneak around her and stay out of her line of site. I am sure it has some useful application–like if you are every trying to stay out of a searchlight, or um, well something. Anyway they had fun doing it and even made level cards to say what level the players had made it to. 🙂 It was interesting to watch.

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Our yellow fall.

This was especially interesting since Rachel and I had a huge conversation about gaining responsibility, God’s kingdom and His view of maturity, and play. She thought there was some written rule that adults couldn’t play anymore–she got this impression from the way all the girls at Sunday School were sure that it was NOT okay to play with dolls once you reached a certain age.

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After a long conversation she began to understand that play changes as you grow and that children’s play is preparation from growing up–practicing adult behaviors, imagining solutions to various problems, and developing interests. This shocked her so much that she wanted to call all her friends and tell them–“someone has to tell them, Mom!”

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Farm near our house.

After talking a bit more she understood that as adults we still play, it just changes because we are no longer practicing for adult things. The good thing is that suddenly she wasn’t afraid of growing up anymore since she knew that we didn’t mind her playing dolls and such for as long as she liked. The down side is that later in the day she fought with her sister because she was playing “baby games” on the computer and Rachel was offended because she found them boring to watch. Sigh.

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Sheep on the hill.

A Bit of a Ramble, or 13 things I did today instead of what I had planned to do.

Wednesday. I had hoped to do WFMW or Wordless Wednesday but that didn’t happen.

I had planned to visit my grandmother, but that didn’t happen.

What did I do instead?

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You can’t see it in this shot but it is REALLY snowing.

  1. Made pinto beans in the crock pot and made several batches of refried beans while helping Rachel remember the steps to making baked potatoes.
  2. Worked on an oil painting I started yesterday–realized that I had forgotten how much more work (physical hard labor) oil painting is than watercolor. I also forgot how much more materials you go through with oils–expensive materials. Sigh. Yesterday I prepared the board as well as some canvas for the kids–they like to paint when I do. Rachel is working on an oil, Esther and Issac, acrylic. (I also sprayed some displays black for my mom’s jewelry.)

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  3. Helped the girls work on their Young Nanowrimo. Rachel is writing a modern fairy tale type story, Esther is writing moody poetry. Really moody poetry, about the death of her grandfather last year and how she misses him and the very next about fun and joy. Did I mention it was REALLY out there, and fairly well written for an almost 8 year old.

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  4. Worked on some watercolors that need done in time for the client to get them framed for Christmas. Normally I can finish a watercolor in a day but with my back and hands bothering me that isn’t happening. One of the three is of cats, which I usually don’t paint–which also slows me down. I need to finish these and get some other small watercolors done for this weekend –I am going to be showing my work at a craft show on Saturday, along with my mom’s jewelry. Rachel is going to help me.
  5. Basic house work type stuff like laundry and dishes.
  6. Made several business calls–have some meetings tomorrow so had to get things organized.
  7. Answered a slew of work related emails.
  8. Made extra long sleeve mittens for the girls from old sweaters. I had already cut the sleeves off of the sweaters because Esther wanted some of those really cute sleeveless sweater dresses that are popular this fall–I picked up some adult long sweaters at the thrift shop and reshaped them for her. She loves them, and now she has matching mittens.

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  9. Got the kids to do their dishes and put their clothes away.
  10. Comforted Issac after he got hurt playing outside in the falling snow. This lead to a kiss attack and then into a long chat with Issac about different number patterns and how many letter many words have using Alphabet signs to form each letter which moved into a tickle fight and then into a discussion about how movies work.

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  11. Showed Issac how to make a little animated gif style movie on the computer using Jasc animation studio. The kids are planning on making a small stop-animation clay movie because of this. In fact they are working on the scenery as I write–they are having a bit of a fight though because the girls want a fall scene and Issac wants a volcano and dinosaur.
  12. Reread”Calling on Dragons” because my back went out and I had to stay flat for a bit while the kids played outside–something about castles. Also worked on my own Nanowrimo, which the kids are begging for–they make excellent motivation.
  13. Played games with and read aloud to the kids.

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This is their first try. Click the image to see the little silent movie. They are working on another one with more detail, better lighting, better layout, and no moved camera. Not bad for a 6, 7, 9 year old with no help from mom other than uploading the pictures and putting them in the animator.

Confessions of a Homeschool Mama

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I have been thinking a lot about homeschooling and our style lately. Because of Stumbleupon I have met a lot more homeschoolers than I typically meet in Bloggyland. It is fascinating how meeting all these lovely ladies (because so far they are all ladies sharing their experience) has caused me to redefine our style–not because we have changed our style but because I have met more and more people who school like we do. I didn’t know that we weren’t the only ones who avoided curriculum, who did what worked with each child based on when they needed it instead of on set standards. I have always considered us Charlotte Mason with a twist, or maybe eclectic. I have come to a realization, however, I realize that our lack of formal studies except where needed (for instance Rachel desperately wants to learn piano so I am working through a book with her, she found she needed to learn to spell and do multiplication so we are studying those, and Issac desperately WANTS to read–so Hooked on Phonics works for him) makes us not quite either of those. We do have a school room but that is for Rachel’s sake–she needs to know it is thee so she can focus when she needs to. But really and honestly, if I am being totally truthful with myself, most of their learning comes because they are interested and they choose what they are interested in. There are a few things we require and otherwise we go with the flow. Dare I say that we, despite our plans and ideals, are unschoolers? I am not sure I am ready to give it such a name but judging from the unschoolers I have met I am finding that they are the ones I am most comfortable with, they are the ones who train their kids the way I do, and I have an inkling that maybe, just maybe, that is where we fit in. I say this with trepidation–because, you know, I am a former public school teacher and I never would have thought I would consider myself an “unschooler”.

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That confession out of the way, I would like to share something with you, some of our experiences which may explain what I mean. Over the last few days, since I have been under the weather I have allowed the kids freedom from their few workbooks (what they call their official homework but which is only a tiny bit of their school day.) Saturday they don’t do those books anyway unless they want to (sometimes they do). However this Saturday they opted not to. Instead they had an elaborate game of dress up and some other pretend play, played with Only Hearts Kids, watched daddy play a computer game–discussing physics and how it work sin the game engine and solving elaborate puzzles that stump adult gamers, they then went with me to pick up some paint brushes at Michaels. While there they discovered a lady demonstrating cake decorating with Fondant. They stood for 45 minutes watching her and asking all kinds of questions about how she was doing what she was doing , what fondant was made of, etc. They then planned to try the experiment with Play-doe and later to et some Fondant to try it on. They were the only ones in a full store interested in stopping and learning. They were so interested that after helping me pick the best brushes for the best price they went back and watched her work while I checked out.

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After we finished there we headed to Target to buy a new CD player for them –they had saved up and decided to go together–trying to choose the best one for their money (they listen to audio books anytime they are in their room, that and Beethoven or swing praise). Instead of going for the fancy ones they went for a better one and chose some cell phone decoration stickers to decorate it (Target had them on sale). When that CD player didn’t work they decided to try the cheaper one instead of buying the same one or one of the cutesy ones.

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Sunday they played all day after we had church together, doing many pretend games, so many that I couldn’t keep track of them all. Today they helped me clean up the yard (we are supposed to get snow tomorrow and needed to get all the summer toys into the basement.) When my mom showed up needing help (her car battery died) we stopped, ran her to

Walmart where we returned the broken CD (Rachel explained to the lady what was wrong with it and asked for their money back so she could decide on a different one) and chose a new cheaper one and some more cell phone stickers. We also perused the 75% off Halloween stuff looking for Christmas presents for each of them (cheap dress up clothes are a great Christmas present).

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When we returned home we attacked the back again, burning all that needed burned and putting the rest of the stuff away. This prompted an impromptu lesson on fires and how they burn. The kids spent most of the afternoon trying to figure out how best to keep the fire burning without making it blaze. If you recall earlier this summer our neighbor died in a huge gasoline fire that took his house-sized garage as well as all the equipment he stored there. Since then the kids have had a great fear of the house burning down (they saw the fire–they couldn’t help it, our yard was full of onlookers and the firefighters were everywhere). However, they used this fire to experiment, testing to see how long it took different types of sticks to catch fire, what worked best, what caused a blaze, what smothered it, how to put out a fire (kick sand on it–just like on Rescure Heroes where they learned quite a bit about fire safety including how forest fires worked–you wouldn’t believe what they explained to me about forest fires during the California fires). They collected fire fuel from from our yard, from our garbage bins, from the neighbors yards, from the collection of cardboard boxes they had stored in the basement (they used them to build all sorts of buildings, race cars, whatevers). They kept at it for several hours until it started to pour down rain and thunder. Now they sit drinking hot carob and listening to Adventures in Odyssey and eating some supper they made themselves. I know Rachel plans to work on her Young Nanowrimo this evening, as does Esther. They also paused a bit to peruse the Target toy gift catalog, found a doll house that was perfect for their Only Hearts Club dolls and called Grandma, telling her they had a $10 off coupon and would she consider getting it for the two of them as their only Christmas present from her and Pappap–they knew about how much she usually spent on them and that if they shared it would be about right. They had already made a request for another Cabbage Patch doll to add to their collection from the other grandma.

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They also played several board games, including Scategories, Blockus, and Perpetual Notion in there somewhere, built several projects with their wooden marble game, last night we practiced swing dancing to Benny Goodman, read part of a Wishbone book and part of William Bennet’s Treasury of Heroes, and they did a whole lot of drawings and wrote several letters to friends. They also carried clean and dirty laundry to where it belonged, sorted the laundry, helped put the clean laundry away, cleaned up the kitchen, and did several other normal chores. These kids lead busy lives. 🙂

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Occasionally it is tempting to feel bad that they aren’t doing “real” school, that our classroom in the basement sits unused. If they are working in their books they would rather do it by the fireplace or on the floor of their rooms. And when they aren’t, they are learning to use real money, to cook real meals, to buy groceries, to clean up after themselves, to love the Lord, to love each other, to serve one another, to help their neighbors, to deal with uncomfortable situations maturly, to perevere if they want to learn how to do something, how to get over their fears and solve problems. It might mean the house is messier than it would be if they spent their time working at the school desks doing “real” school, but all of our lives are richer and fuller because of it, they get to learn by living and grow in the process, they learn things you can’t get out of books–especially problem solving, how to be social in different settings, and develop character. They learn how to stay out of smoke, how to smother and build a fire, how to serve one another. Is my house a mess, more than likely. Is it worth it, absolutely.

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Chore Wars

I don’t usually talk about our family love of RPG gaming (roll playing games)–this being a Christian blog and many Christians being unsure about D&D (which is just one type–usually we just call them RPGs) and whether it is a Christian thing to do or not. I am married to the guy behind the Lord of the Rings turned D&D campaign comic, the RollercoasterTycoon + Bowling = Fun, Chainmail Bikini, not to mention several other geek humor items that have made him a slight celebrity in the geekosphere–so of course we have geek stuff going on in our house. I mean really, his blog is at http://twentysidedtale.com –twenty sided being the dice used in RPG’s and the site itself started as a way to share the D&D campaign he wrote.

RPG’s are not, in themselves evil. Just like anything else, roll playing games can and have in the past been taken to the extreme, just as much as music, books, movies, cards, and anything else that people do occasionally for entertainment. The cool thing about RPGs is that you choose the back story you are working with. There are Christian RPG’s out there and a variety of others–science fiction, fantasy, medieval, all sorts. The only thing that makes an RPG an RPG is that you get to play another character, have some type of stats for the character, and act on behalf of that character–like being in a play except that it is free form. Point is that just like anything else there are good and bad RPG’s and I just found an awesome one.

Chore Wars.

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My husband and I have talked before about trying to develop some kind of D&D game that would let the kids play but learn good things while they were at it. Guess what, I found it, online, for free.

Instead of some fantasy or outer space setting with a big fancy story, the GM (Game Master, sometimes DM–the person in charge of the game) makes a list of chores that need done by the family. There are a variety of incentives that the parent sets and each person has their own login but can only choose which jobs to do–they have to have special permission to make more jobs.

The website allows you to set up chores for each individual room or however you like. You name the chore, choose the incentives (XP is based on time it should take instead of how hard it is, you choose how much each level will go up based on the type of chore it is, you choose how much GP (gold pieces–which can be used as a token system to “buy” whatever you like to use as a “big” incentive), the likelihood of treasure (percentage and what treasures–you can go classic D&D and give a + 4 golden mop or you can give something tangible–we went with the tangible by giving say a 20% chance of a treasure if you beat the monster–the treasure being a hug and kiss, a lollipop, a sticker just to keep it interesting), and the chance of meeting a monster–this is what keeps Rachel coming back she LOVES beating the monsters, plus you get to name them yourself–for instance the monsters in our campaign are all sin or vice related, like Mr. Complaining, Mr. Distraction, or silly–like when you get attacked by the laundry pile when you try to do the laundry. The kids are having fun with these and when they struggle to do a job instead of complaining they say they are being attacked by My. Complaining who is trying to get them to complain.

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Another cool thing is the character sheets. They look like standard character sheets but they let you see what each person has in their inventory (and let the characters remove those they have “used” or spend their money, leaving a note where it went.) Also wonderful is that it gives you a list of the updates in what each person completed so all I have to do is look at the computer to make sure Issac did his homework (he can’t read them all but his sisters help him and he LOVES getting the rewards and fighting monsters.) Best of all is that it has an RSS feed so you can keep an eye on what is getting done in your feed reader (or can if you are like us and have more than one computer going at a time.)

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Yes, you may notice that “Daddy”, who chose to make a character that looks like Gandalf, is also “playing”–he keeps checking in and loves being able to check and see what everyone got done today. Since it is online if you are in the party you can check in from anywhere (which is great for my mom and brother since my brother lives half time at my dad’s.) I am not sure how long it will last in our household but even if it only lasts for today–Rachel has done 6 hours worth of work (granted she moved faster so she could do more sooner, must fix those XP levels), and Esther did 5 hours worth, and Issac did 2 hours worth–and I didn’t have to ask–they love fighting the monsters and are even earning things for each other and helping each other do the work so they can see what they can earn. My house is clean, I didn’t have to load the dishwasher (Esther volunteered and got extra XP for it), the socks are almost all sorted (I threw that in with some extra incentives since NO ONE likes to sort socks around here), the floors are swept, the junk is off the floor, and some of the laundry is done. All without a single real life battle–though there have been plenty of battles with Laundry Piles, Mr. Distraction, Greed, Mr. Complaining, Mr. Whinypants, and others–and I am sure Shamus battled more than once with “the big boss” and “Writers Block”.

The verdict–I recommend it. It is a fun way of keeping an eye on the house work and to get kids to volunteer to help each other–I am amazed at the loving spirit that has pervaded the household–aside from the fights that ensued when the girls tried to play games with their grumpy brother –a half an hour of educational games with siblings gets 30xp, though the book reading that went on was pretty awesome–did I mention that I didn’t even have to ask????