Archive for September, 2007

Great Moments in Homeschooling

September 25, 2007 @ 11:34 pm | Filed under:

I came across a used copy of Young People’s Story of Fine Art on our shelves (Dad, was this one of your thrift store finds? If so, good call—thanks!) and read the first several pages to Beanie and Jane. Rose was off in the back of the house, doing her own thing.

The book opens with a discussion of the Revolution-era French painter Jacques Louis David, who was one of the most prominent neo-Classicists. Several of his paintings are reproduced in the book, and others are described, including The Sabine Women. We Googled that one, and when the image loaded on our screen, Jane burst out laughing.

"That’s the painting you put in the bunnies post!" she cried.

"Huh?" said eloquent I.

"The one about all roads leading to Rome. From a long time ago, remember?"

Doggone if she isn’t right.

Which is hilarious, because that post was all about connections, and here’s one more, thanks to the post itself.

I love my job. (Chief Googler and family scribe.)

Kids Will Be Kids

September 25, 2007 @ 7:47 am | Filed under: , , ,

Wonderboy ran up to me and said, "Mommy, I need kiss you!"

Smooch. Now that’s what I call speech therapy.

"Need kiss" is more like "nee kih" but he is starting to use ending consonants on words like up, cup, and big.

"I need to kiss you" has to be one of the sweetest sentences a mother can hear.

In the meeting last week there was a really funny (and for me, triumphant) moment when he said something to the audiologist. Earlier in the meeting, his speech therapist and I had been talking about how much she "gets out of him" during a session. His tendency is to watch her, either solemnly or with a big grin (if you know him in person you know what I mean about the grin—I was telling this story to a friend and she said, "Yup, that’s Wonderboy all right"), but not repeat back the words the therapist is trying to get him to say. Then, after an activity is finished, he’ll say the sound or word clear as a bell. He just—like most kids his age—doesn’t like to be put on the spot.

So in the meeting, I was describing this as a typical behavior for his age and developmental stage. (Developmentally, he is more like a young three than a going-on-four three.) The speech therapist was looking at it from a different angle: she was seeing his silence as an inability to perform on cue rather than a choice not to perform. Well, this is one of those things that a mother just knows. When you spend all day with a child, you get a pretty good sense of when he can’t do something and when he won’t.

About twenty minutes after this conversation, the audiologist burst out laughing. She explained that she had been trying to get Wonderboy to talk to her. She was sitting next to me, and he often wandered over from the toy area to stand at my elbow and give me a kiss on the arm. (He is so sweet with his kisses!) The audi had been holding out a plastic ice cream cone and telling him, "Say ice cream. Say ice cream." And he had just grinned at her.

So what made her burst out laughing was that several minutes after she stopped playing with him and set the toy cone down on the table, he ran up and grabbed the cone and said to her, with the most impish glint in his eye, "I got my ice cream cone."

"It’s exactly like you said!" the audiologist crowed.

This reminds me so much of when Jane was two years old, in the hospital for chemotherapy. One day she pitched a big huge fit right in the middle of the hall on the cancer ward. This was unusual behavior for her, and medical personnel came running from all directions.

"Is she seizing?" called a nurse, racing to my side. A doctor elbowed me out of the way, dropping to his knees beside my shrieking, writhing child.

"No, it’s not a seizure," I said. "It’s a tantrum. I wouldn’t let her run in the hall."

She had a central line in her chest, which was connected by tubing to an i/v pole from which hung a bag of medicine so toxic I was under orders to wear protective gloves when changing her diaper. So, no, I wouldn’t let her run away from me down the hall, pulling the i/v behind her. And she was two years old, and this made her mad.

You wouldn’t believe what a hard time I had convincing the assembled docs and nurses that this wasn’t a medical emergency.

Sometimes special needs kids are just kids.

A Whole Lot More about the IEP Meeting

September 21, 2007 @ 8:38 pm | Filed under: , , ,

So much I want to respond to in your comments! Good thing there’s a weekend coming up…

One important point I didn’t get to yesterday is this piece of information regarding homeschooling with an IEP in California: as soon as the child reaches legal kindergarten age, more options open up. Wonderboy will be four in December. Part of the system’s inflexibility has to do with his age. He falls in a murky space between the Early Intervention cut-off age of three years, and legal kindergarten age. No, murky is the wrong word: the law is very clear. It’s a rigid space; that’s a better way to describe it.

As soon as Wonderboy reaches legal kindergarten age, I have the option of ditching his IEP. That’s because I am homeschooling under California’s private school provision, one of several options open to home educators in this state. According to the state of California, my three older children are enrolled in a private school called Bonny Glen Academy. The "headmaster" is my husband, and I am the other member of the faculty.

When Wonderboy reaches legal kindergarten age, I can enroll him in our private school and turn down his IEP in lieu of an ISP, an Individualized service plan. This is how students in actual private schools can receive special education services like speech, physical therapy, and occupational therapy from the public school system. I’m still wading through the regulations, but there seems to be more flexibility with an ISP than with an IEP.

But Wonderboy won’t be legal kindergarten age until the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year. He misses next year’s cutoff by one week. I find it hilarious that I am suddenly going, Shoot, I can’t believe we miss the cutoff—in all other circumstances, I would be thrilled not to have to fuss with enrollment paperwork for him for an extra year. (Especially since kindergarten is not mandatory in California. Yet.)

For now, we’re solidly in IEP territory. And despite how complicated it has become, I don’t (yet?) regret pursuing speech and audiology services through the school system. I love the district audiologist. She is very good at her job, she’s flexible about scheduling, and her services do not cost us anything. If I’d foregone the whole IEP adventure, we’d be getting audiology services via the medical establishment, which means a significant expense of time and money.

As for speech, well, I’m on the fence. But that too is fodder for another post. It’s a big topic, so I’ll save it. This one is going to be long enough, I fear.


Amy commented:

IMHO the school systems just don’t *get* the homeschooling mother’s
mentality of "I *can* and *will* do this at home because it is part of
my job as homeschooling parent" – we saw so many parents (good parents,
mind you) who just "left it all up to us" as "professionals" and never
really worked with their kids at home. Not that there was much TIME
with the kids coming home late from school, two income families and
many activities! I know I’m generalizing here, so I hope no public
school families are offended. There were some great parents, but many,
many hands-off parents, therapy wise.

and that is indeed what informs the school personnel’s decisions—that
and the related issue of parents filing suit against school districts
for failing to do enough. And knowing how hard some of my
public-school-parent friends have had to work to GET necessary services
for their children, I am well aware that this is a complicated problem,
a swinging door that smacks faces in both directions.

Sitting in that room, debating with the team, I knew I was talking
to people who think well of me, and the ones who have worked with Wonderboy do truly care about my son. Pam, I am quite sure, was enduring a
form of anguish in "having" to recommended against what she knew I

Not that her anguish excuses her for failing to tell me in advance
what she was going to do—if she wasn’t going to recommend cutting back
to one session, there was really no point in having the meeting. No
need to assemble the panel if you aren’t going to change the paperwork.
Really, what it means is that she didn’t have the courage to tell me
herself—she let the district rep, a stranger, do the dirty work for
her—and in quite intimidating circumstances.

It’s HARD to argue back in the face of authority. It does not come
naturally to me, let me tell you. The reason I can do it is because
underneath my oh-gosh-they’ll-get-mad-if-I-buck-’em insecurities, I
know that in truth *I* am the authority. I learned this during our long
ordeal with Jane’s cancer. It took me months of hospital living to get
to a point where I could be "frank, firm, and persistent" with doctors.
I had to assimilate the knowledge that although they knew more about
fighting cancer than I did, I knew more about my child. I am the
authority on that subject.

Back to Amy’s point. I know that my decision not to avail myself of
the very good deaf/hard-of-hearing preschool program our district offers is utterly
mystifying to several of the members of the team. You can practically
hear them thinking, "But…you could have him off your hands for hours
every day!! Whyyyy wouldn’t you want to take advantage of that break?
As you say, you’re juggling a ton already…"

"She homeschools her children," I heard one team member whisper to
another. "OHHH," the other, who was meeting me for the first time,
responded, as if that explained so much. Heck, maybe it does.

In the interests of fairness, I want to clarify that the person who
whispered "She homeschools" was my biggest advocate in the meeting. I
think she really was offering that information to her colleague as a
relevant fact: this is a mom who is very involved with her children’s education. It was the colleague’s response that was so telling. "Ohhh," in a tone that conveyed: "So that’s why she’s being difficult."

(More fairness! By the end of the meeting, the Ohhh woman seemed to
have completely revised whatever negative impression she had of me at
the beginning. She told me I should write a book. Hee.)

I want to reiterate that although I was in opposition to the team’s
initial decision, this wasn’t an overtly hostile environment. These are really
nice people, dedicated to their jobs, working from their best
understanding of how kids learn, how families work, what the law says,
and how the system works. Almost by definition, a homeschooling family
is going to run counter to that understanding. What we believe about
how kids (people) learn and how families work tends to be dramatically
different from the views of mainstream educators. (For one thing, I
don’t think I know any homeschoolers who would commit to a definition
of "how families work"—the "how" is different for every family!)


There was a point in our meeting when it really looked as though the
team was not going to budge on the reduction of service. The
conversation had become about scheduling: since our current schedule
doesn’t work, what other options were there.  As you may recall from last year, when I first came
seeking speech therapy, the district’s strong recommendation was for me
to enroll Wonderboy in that five-day-a-week deaf/HOH preschool program. I declined, for a
number of reasons.

One thing I was interested in for this year, though, was having him
receive speech therapy from one of the two therapists involved with
the preschool. Since they work with deaf/HOH kids, they are specially
skilled in meeting the kind of speech needs my son has. (Our current
therapist’s specialty is preschoolers, but he is her first HOH child,
and she is learning as she goes. She makes some classic mistakes, such
as forgetting that he can’t hear her when she whispers. But again, that’s for another post.)

We discussed a number of options. He could get his one-on-one speech therapy at the preschool. Pam and I both wondered whether that would be too distracting, to have a bunch of other kids around doing other things during the session. The preschool teacher said that no, it was a play-based program, so Wonderboy could do whatever he liked, and the speech therapist would simply follow him around the room, working speech into Wonderboy’s activities.

"Um, how is that any different from what I do all day at home?" I asked. I reminded them that his IEP doesn’t say anything about developing expressive and receptive language. He has no delay in that area—in fact, he’s ahead for his age, since (speaking English and ASL) he is bilingual.

His IEP goals for speech—there are only two goals, by the way—involve the production of five new sounds. That’s all the district is supposed to concern itself with: helping him gain a finite number of consonants. He has already gained three of the five sounds specified in the goals.

Back to the drawing board. If he were enrolled in the preschool program even part-time, they told me, he could get speech during the small-group session that would be more in line with the goals we’re working toward. Would I consider a two-hour time slot, once or twice a week?

I gave this idea serious consideration. Once a week, for speech and audiology? It might possibly work…he’d be working with the deaf/HOH-trained speech pathologist, for one thing, and having seen her at work (she attended one of our sessions to give Pam some pointers), I was very open to the idea of finding a way to work with her.

But then it hit me, and I asked the question. "What happens if I
agree to this, but in a few months’ time I have determined it not to be
in his best interests? What if I wanted to go back to what we have now,
the 30-minute private sessions?"

There was a pause, and the district rep exchanged glances with the others.

"Well," she said slowly, "we would have to have another meeting like
this one, and the team would have to agree that he would be best served
by pulling him out."

"In that case," I said, "we can stop talking about this option right
now. And it’s too bad, because I do think there are some strong
arguments in its favor. But I can’t take the risk of running into
another situation like this one. If there is any possibility of my
having to walk back into this room and be told by a panel of people
that I can’t do what I know to be in the best interests of my own
child, then forget it."

I worded it strongly because I needed to make sure they understood
the point. I will not cede my parental authority to a panel of school
district personnel. End of story.

This statement seemed to hit home. From that point on, the tone of
the meeting was different. I think several of the people in the room
had assumed I was completely closed to the idea of any participation in
the preschool program because of some anti-school prejudice.

In fact, there had been a funny moment earlier in the meeting when I
teased the audiologist for making exactly that assumption. She
mentioned that she knew my older girls go to "enrichment activities"
(her words) like music and dance. "Maybe," she suggested, "you could
think of the preschool program as an enrichment activity for Wonderboy."

I grinned. "You don’t have to come up with other names for it," I said. "I’m not going to break out in hives at the word school."

There was a ripple of laughter, and it was clear that a few people at the table had assumed I would categorically refuse anything with a schooly label.

"Listen," I said, still smiling but also serious, "what I’m about—the reason I homeschool—is because I’m about individualized education, the freedom to do what’s best for each individual child."

We all had a nice chuckle over it, and someone else joshed the audi
for trying to slip something past me, and she said she wasn’t slipping
anything past me, she didn’t think I missed much. Which was nice of
her, but thinking back over the meeting, I see that there were some nuances I nearly missed. (And probably some I did miss, but I wouldn’t know, would I?)

I almost missed the fact that opting for a two-hour dropoff at the preschool would have meant increasing the level of service—when here I was fighting to decrease it in the first place.

I almost missed the fact that dropoff therapy would negate the most important aspect of our therapy experience: I wouldn’t be there to learn techniques and activities to use at home.

It rather amazes me, now, looking back at the meeting, that I came
close to making such a colossal mistake. I’m sharing that part of the
story here, embarrassing as it is, because I think it speaks to
something very important for parents to know as they head into meetings
like this. When you’re under that much pressure, and facing disapproval
from figures who speak with authority, it is very, very easy to lose
track of what you want and what you know to be true.

You are trying to be reasonable, and you begin to think in terms of
compromise, because to do anything else is to make yourself a royal
pain in the tuckus. But there are certain things you should never have
to compromise, and your child’s best interests ranks mighty high on that list.


So the way it turned out is that I said, "Listen. This is intensely frustrating. What you are saying—what several of you have articulated very clearly—is that you agree that because we do so much work with Wonderboy at home, and because his life is filled with so many other appointments eating up our time, and because he is making such terrific progress, it makes sense to cut back to one speech therapy session a week. But you say you can’t agree to that change because it doesn’t look good on paper. Pam, what you said was, ‘On paper it’s hard to justify a reduction of services for a child with that level of need.’ So what I’m hearing is that you are going to stick to a decision we all agree is not in the best interests of this specific child, because of a fear of how it looks on paper."

Some of them were nodding. The itinerant teacher, the one whose curriculum I had declined last year but who came to our house a week ago for the annual 30-minute consult I did consent to (and that in itself is another whole post topic), spoke up on my behalf. She said that having seen Wonderboy in his home environment, having heard him chatter, having watched how I interact with him, she had to admit that there wasn’t one single thing she would recommend to a parent that I wasn’t already doing on my own.

She was very complimentary. I was grateful, and yet it was strange—it felt like having a great defense witness testify for me when I shouldn’t have been on trial in the first place. It bothers me, still, that part of what eventually won me the result I was after was that I had allowed a district employee into my home, had been observed and passed muster.


Believe it or not, long as this post is, there’s a lot I haven’t told yet. Maybe I’ll get to it later. Maybe I really will have to write that book.

You know the end of the story already—the end of this chapter, at least. After a whole lot more discussion, the team agreed. We signed the papers. Wonderboy will attend speech therapy once a week. His IEP expires in January and we’ll have to reconvene the panel at that time, to revise, update, tweak.

That means this isn’t over. But I’m learning more about the system all the time.

The IEP Story

September 20, 2007 @ 10:59 pm | Filed under: , ,

As some of you guessed in the comments, the meeting I alluded to the other day was a doozie. It will probably take me several posts to sort through everything. But let me spare you the suspense and say this: It ended well. I got what I wanted. But it took two hours of intense discussion to get there.

:::::deep breath:::::

Remember last winter when I wrote about getting Wonderboy’s IEP in place? Remember how I said:

Which leads me to a very interesting and important thing I learned at
the end of the meeting. I need to look into whether this applies to
California only or the entire nation. As my pen was poised to sign the
final paperwork, the psychologist notified me (as she is legally bound
to do) that once the parent signs the IEP, the child is officially "in
the system," and the parent can’t just decide later to pull him out of
services without a big to-do. From that point on, the appropriate district personnel (in this case, speech therapist) must agree that the child no longer needs these services in order to cancel them.

You know, I worked pretty hard to make sure my son’s IEP was worded exactly as I wished it to be, lest this section of the law come back to bite us later. But you can never, never be too careful. I should have been, it turns out, even more careful than I was.

The IEP says Wonderboy will receive 60 minutes of speech therapy a week. That’s what we did last year, in two 30 minute private sessions. He did very well, and because I was present during the sessions I was able to repeat the activities at home, daily. He made great progress and gained several consonant sounds. It was very exciting.

But the two-day-a-week schedule was difficult to juggle. He sees a number of other doctors, and that adds up to a lot of appointments. Add in the girls’ activities, and it makes for a great deal of running around. The speech therapist and I agreed that Wonderboy was making fabulous progress. When we started back up after the summer break, I said I wanted to cut back to once a week.

She was hesitant, worrying that if he only saw her once a week, she wouldn’t get as much out of him in the sessions. That wasn’t a concern for me: I don’t really care how much she "gets out of him" (meaning, how much he speaks for her in session); I care about whether he is learning to make new sounds. At home, and out in the world, he is quite a chatterbox—and that includes using the consonants we’re working on in therapy. When the speech therapist puts him on the spot, he clams up, grinning his funny grin. Often he’ll be quiet for 29 minutes of therapy and then burst into conversation on our way out the door. The speech therapist and I have often laughed about this.

So we talked about my reasons for wanting to cut back, and we threw around some other ideas for scheduling—the current schedule doesn’t work at all for us anymore, not with a new year’s lineup of activities for the older girls—and she suggested that we could look at switching to another time with another speech therapist, if her availability didn’t work out for us. We talked about all of that, and none of the options seemed to fit, and so we came back to my preference to cut back to one session a week.

To do that, she said we’d have to set up a meeting with the "whole team" to revise the IEP. The "whole team" means all the school district personnel legally required to sign off on this document. It’s a big slate, in Wonderboy’s case: our speech therapist, the speech pathologist connected with the district’s deaf/hard of hearing preschool program, the preschool teacher, a district rep, an early childhood education rep, the district psychologist, the deaf/HOH itinerant teacher, the district audiologist, oh, and me.

I’m only being a teeny bit snarky in listing myself as an afterthought there. You see, and this is the most significant thing I have to say on the subject of the IEP, the parent is considered "a member of the team." Not the coach, not the person in charge. A member, a single vote.

It is for this reason that a parent must exercise extreme caution in signing an IEP. As I said before, don’t make a mark on that dotted line until you are 100% satisfied with the language in the document.

But I’m jumping ahead of my story. As far as I knew when I walked into that meeting on Tuesday, I was there simply to sign paperwork: the team was assembled to sign off on my request to cut back from two weekly speech therapy sessions to one.

And then, after the introductions around the table—a little low table in the deaf/HOH preschool room, with all ten of us squinched into those tiny little kindergarten chairs—they sandbagged me.

The district rep was leading the meeting. We were there, she explained to the room, because I had requested a reduction in services and the speech therapist had declined the request.

I looked at our speech therapist. (I should give her a name. Let’s call her Pam.) I was shocked. She hadn’t indicated in any way that she was going to recommend against granting my request.

(Do you know how disturbing I find it even to use the words "grant my request"? The very idea of having to ask permission to do what I know to be best for my own child—it’s repugnant.)

Pam looked like she wanted to sink under the table. "I’m so sorry," she said miserably. "I just—I mean, going by Wonderboy specifically, knowing you and how much you work with him, I know he’d be fine, but it’s just—well, a child with his level of need—legally, you understand—I just can’t see how I could justify it on paper, that a child with his level of need could have a reduction in services."

"A child with his level of need"—that’s a key phrase, one which would be used often during the next two hours. It quickly became clear to me that the district personnel were making a distinction between my son and his actual, specific circumstances, and a generic "child with his level of need." Over and over, I was told—not just by the therapist, but by several of the other people on the "team"—that it was clear Wonderboy’s situation is unusual (hearing loss is but one of his many issues; we juggle a boatload of medical appointments; his parents and siblings work with him constantly at home; and so on) and they all had confidence that he "would do fine" with one session a week, but "legally, a child with his level of need…"

Et cetera.

I could make this a very long story. I will probably examine specific points of the discussion in future posts. I think this is an important issue, not only in regard to my family, but in regard to all American homeschoolers—and, indeed, parents in general. We are, as a country, quietly ceding our parental rights to the state.

But I will not cede mine without a fight. In this case, I did eventually bring the "team" round to my point of view. It took two hours of intense discussion. Not heated discussion; no voices were raised. But I had to be frank, and firm, and persistent.

In the beginning, when the district personnel were holding fast to their position, I was told that if I could not agree to stick at the 2 sessions per week, the next step would be to go to mediation, and after that (if we refused to comply with the decision), arbitration. This is California law. As I said in my first IEP post quoted above, in this state, once you sign the IEP, you can’t withdraw your child from services without the consent of the team. I should add "or reduce the level of service" to that sentence.

This post is to be continued. There is lots more to tell (I haven’t gotten to the most outrageous part), and lots to talk about. For now, it’s enough to be able to say that I convinced the team to look at my specific child, not "a child with this level of need." We’ve cut back to one session a week. I’ll continue to work with him every day at home. That’s my job. I’m not a team member. I’m his mother.

In Which We Make a Brief Foray into the Realm of Product Testing

September 20, 2007 @ 7:51 am | Filed under:

One of the most unexpected aspects of blogging has been the barrage of emails from marketing departments asking me to try a free something-or-other, and if I want "to post a review of it on my blog, that would be great." I turn most of these requests down, because I have a dread of sounding like a commercial. I fear I already sound like that too much of the time, when I’m waxing enthusiastic about a book or resource I love. It is in my nature to gush when I like something, and we all know it’s a fine line between gushing and ad copy. What differentiates them is sincerity. When I gush, I mean it.

Which is why I turn down most of the product review requests. (Books for review are an entirely different matter. Books, I jump at.) I did agree to try the package of Luvs diapers—they were launching some kind of new stretchy elastic system at the leg openings—because I have two kids in diapers at the moment, and hey, those things add up. And actually they were quite good and I keep meaning to do a price comparison to the Target brand, because if the Luvs are cheaper I’ll switch. (As to why I don’t use cloth diapers—when I did the "how crunchy are you?" meme a long while back I came up just shy of super-granola crunchy because of the disposable diapers thing—it’s a long story related to living in Queens with no washing machine.)

A well-known maker of disposable cleaning tools sent me a sample kit of a dusting "system," and it came in a house-shaped box which my young daughters deemed perfect for converting into a fairy house, but I looked at the dusting "system" and burst out laughing. If I need an instruction brochure to show me how to assemble a duster, it ain’t the duster for me. Heh. Besides, I’m already filling landfills with diapers. I can’t possibly add paper dusting cloths to my trash column: I’d lose yet more crunch!

Then there was the email asking if I’d like to receive a free sample of new reduced-sugar NesQuik. One of the kids read it over my shoulder, and there was a great clamor of YES! YOU WOULD LIKE TO! YES! So we tried it, and my children thought I was the coolest mom ever, because people sent us chocolate milk mix in the mail just because I have children and write about them on the interwebz. Our NesQuik interlude was a most comical chapter of our lives. I couldn’t write about it because the children sounded like commercials. If I’d had a camera rolling on Beanie, I could have made a fortune: golden ringlets bouncing, bright smile, chocolate milk mustache, "Mommy, this NesQuik is DELICIOUS! I can’t even tell it has reduced sugar!" I kid you not. It was a ridiculous moment. I kept waiting for the director to yell "Cut! It’s a wrap!"

They are still tormenting me, my children, with requests for more NesQuik. That’s what they call it, NesQuik, and it drives me crazy. Quik! I cry. Just plain Quik! I grew up with it and I know what I’m talking about! I don’t care what it says on the package. Rassafrassin’ marketing departments, messing with my childhood brand names. Humph.

After that episode (and the subsequent and still-occurring barrage of please for more NesQuik), I decided I’d had enough of free product samples. But then came an opportunity to try out a new kind of cell phone service called Kajeet, and since it was related to something I had posted here a while back, I was curious to find out more. This is less a product review than an FYI kind of post. I don’t yet have a need for one of my kids to have a cell phone, but with the teens just around the corner (pardon me while I go tend to my husband’s heart palpitations), I can anticipate a time when I’m going to want them to have that means of keeping in touch.

Do you remember when I posted a mini-rant in response to an article about kids racking up huge credit card and cell phone bills, and I wondered aloud how such a thing could even happen? A commenter (I wish I could find the post—Google is letting me down) clued me in to just how easy it is for kids to download games and burn up phone minutes without needing any access to the billing info; you can download anything you want and your cellular service is more than happy to add it to your tab.

Kajeet seems like a reasonable alternative. When you set up a Kajeet account, you have a parent’s wallet and a kid’s wallet. (Or kids’ wallets, if you are activating more than one phone.)

You put money into the parent’s wallet via your credit card, and then you decide how much to transfer into your kid’s wallet.

Instead of a monthly service fee, you pay an access fee of 35 cents a day. This is deducted daily from the sum in your child’s wallet. There is no time commitment—you can cancel service whenever you want, with no fee or penalty. So you’re looking at ten or eleven dollars a month for the service, plus the cost of however many minutes you use.

Phone calls are ten cents a minute. Text messages are five cents each to send or receive. Picture messages are .25 a minute.

I worked out a price comparison to my current cell phone plan, and it looks like the cost of, say, 150 minutes of Kajeet service (including the daily access fee) would be only slightly higher than the cost of adding another phone and 150 more minutes to my current plan. The main difference would be that Sprint would bind me to a year-long contract, and with Kajeet there is no time commitment or contract. So that’s a plus.

The wallet system is pretty clever. In addition to controlling how much money goes into the wallet, the parent can also allocate a number of minutes to be used per day. So if you’re wanting a cell phone just so a child can keep in touch with you, it would be easy to keep the cost minimal by allotting only a small number of minutes a day. There’s no way for the child to rack up a nightmarish bill, because the parent controls the purse strings.

You can also control what phone numbers can make calls to and receive calls from your kid’s phone, and whether those calls will be paid for from the kid’s wallet or the parent’s wallet. Similarly, you can manage settings for what the child is allowed to download: games, ringtones, wallpaper, and so forth.

At this point, my kids and I almost always travel in a pack, and (sorry, Jane) we really don’t have a need for any of them to have a phone. And I’m starry-eyed enough to think ‘my kid would NEVER surprise me with a bunch of games she downloaded without telling me’—but I can easily, EASILY, see my beloved daughter chattering away to a pal and racking up hours’ worth of minutes without realizing it. I can see this because I’ve done it myself now and then, ahem, and we all know that what we DO has far more influence than what we SAY.

Since we got to play with a nifty blue phone all week (I think we get to keep it?), my kids would like me to add that the phone is AWESOME and you can download games (also funded by the wallet system) and the games look AWESOME and can we buy some, please, please, Mom, that would be so AWESOME? And *I* would like to add that there are other descriptive words in their vocabulary, but apparently something about hip cell phone technology brings out the latent 80s teen in them. Gnarly!

(And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.)

The Landmark History of the American People

September 18, 2007 @ 8:13 am | Filed under: , ,

If you follow my daily learning notes blog, you know that Jane and I have been reading and discussing a book called The Landmark History of the American People by Daniel Boorstin.

I picked it up about four years ago, when Jane was around eight years old. At the time, it didn’t really click with her and I laid it aside.

We picked it back up last year and this time, the fit was right. It’s a history text, but it isn’t like any other history book I’ve seen. Instead of following events strictly chronologically, Boorstin tracks trends and movements: how the general store gave way to the department store, for example, or how a snake oil salesman repurposed his product for lamp-lighting and greased the way, so to speak, for Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Empire.

Boorstin, who was appointed Librarian of Congress when President Ford was in the White House, is an engaging storyteller, and he ropes you in with descriptions of the charismatic personalities that have been American movers and shakers. Jane reads each chapter eagerly and then passes it to me, entertaining the babies so I can have my turn. I’m learning as much as she is.

There is much here to fire the imagination:

(Jane, reading over my shoulder: “Do the bit about the shot tower, Mom!”)

The second problem [with building tall buildings; the first problem, how to get people up to higher floors, was solved by the elevator]—how to hold up the building—began to be solved when James Bogardus and others had used cast iron for their Buyers’ Palaces. No longer was it necessary to build a tall building like a pyramid, with thick supporting walls on the lower floors. Cast-iron construction helped the department stores keep the lower floors wide open, with broad vistas and narrow pillars, allowing attractive show windows in between. But iron construction also made it possible to build higher and higher. Soon an eight-story building like Stewart’s Cast Iron Palace would seem small.

Bogardus himself constructed one of the first buildings of true skyscraper design. Its frame was a tall iron cage.  If the cage was strong and rigid, and  solidly anchored at the bottom, then the building could go up high without needing thick walls at the bottom. This was ‘skeleton’ construction. The building was held up, not by wide foundations at the bottom, but by its own rigid skeleton.

The first time Bogardus actually tried this, his structure did not have any rooms at all. It was a skeleton-framed tower for an ammunition factory. In those days lead shot was made by pouring molten lead through a sieve inside a high tower. The little liquid balls of lead dripped through, a few at a time. As these plummeted down through the air they became naturally rounded. And as they fell into the tank of water at the bottom they hardened into their rounded shape—ready for use in a rifle or a cannon.

In 1855, when the McCullough Shot and Lead Company needed a new shot tower in New York City, Bogardus gave them his radical new design. He built them an octagonal iron tower eight stories high. A tall iron cage, it needed no filled-in, weight-bearing walls to hold it up. Yet it was strong. When the openings in the iron frame were covered with brick, it served just as well as any heavy column of stone.

There is ample fodder here for the “ideas to ponder and discuss” part of our Rule of Six!

The edition I have contains both volumes of Boorstin’s text, with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution sandwiched between them. Several Amazon marketplace sellers have listed older editions of the book—most of them, I think, are offering the individual volumes. Volume 1 is “From Plymouth to Appomatox” and Volume 2 is “From Appomatox to the Moon.”

Another great history read is Jennifer Armstrong’s The American Story, but that’s a subject for another review!