Sunday, October 28, 2007
Two of my children taught themselves to read. Any teaching on my part was purely accidental yet 100% effective. It wasn’t rocket science but my methods would be just as difficult to transpose to a classroom setting. I spent one on one time with each child for several hours a day. When my son was an only child I would read a stack of books to him during the day and another stack at night to try to get him to fall asleep.
Reading was an important part of our world. He lived 24/7 in a home that placed a high emphasis on reading and he spent much of his time sitting in front of a book or having a book read to him. We also wrote books together. He would say the words and I would write them down. I would fold the pages in half, punch holes in the paper, and secure the pages with ribbon or I would fold the pages down the middle and staple the folded area to create a spine. Our "readers" were written by the child. We created these books whenever we could and he could read these little books because he was the author.
Our refrigerator was decorated in refrigerator magnets shaped like the letters of the alphabet. We had alphabet puzzles, alphabet building blocks, alphabet shaped water toys, and many “ABC books.” Each day as we read side by side on a comfy couch I would point out a letter of the alphabet and then I would challenge my son to find the letter as I read to him. The only plan I followed was mother’s intuition. We did this almost every day until he learned how to recognize all of the letters. Eventually, I would challenge him find three letter words or common words. This family reading time eased him into becoming a reader. I didn’t teach him to read on purpose, it was purely accidental and natural. I followed a curriculum of love and a scope and sequence driven by mommy's intuition.
My daughter also taught herself to read but maybe because my time was divided between her and her brother she learned at a much later age. She and I didn't read 10 books a day. Still, I had confidence that she would eventually learn to read so I didn't force her to become a reader at an early age. At some point, using educational toys, she figured out how to read. She might be considered a late reader but she reads just fine now and she learned with little or no instruction.
I have one child who was an early reader and one child who was a late reader but both taught themselves how to read. I think the secret to their success might have been that they weren't taught how to read. They were allowed to learn when they were ready to learn – late or early. They lived reading and were read to often. Learning to read might be a lifestyle instead of some expensive miracle program.
There’s a point to all of this. Either children are smarter than rocket scientists or we are trivializing something that should be simple and natural. Are we trying to teach many children how to read too early thus making something as simple as child’s play seem as difficult as rocket science? Waiting until the child is developmentally and physiologically ready to learn would make teaching reading as easy as pie!
I know if I were teaching in a classroom I would be forced to observe the conclusions of the article that I mentioned and to understand why some people think that TEACHING reading is like rocket science. A child who is surrounded by love, books, and plenty of time and patience will find learning to read is as easy pie most of the time.
You want a nation of proficient readers? Then you want everyone to be the same and that's not reality. Read to your children daily, model the importance of reading by reading, and don’t expect all children to read so early. Let them learn when they are ready. I think children are better learners than we are teachers, anyway.
Here is the article "Teaching Reading IS Rocket Science." You have to give some of these people credit. They are masters at making something very easy and natural look like a very daunting task. Glad I didn't read this article ten years ago when I started homeschooling. They make a pretty strong case with their big words! As a homeschool mom I felt like the message of this article was "Don't even try it. It's too hard for you! Leave it to the 'educated' 'qualified' 'experts.'" Fact: Many homeschooled children are learning to read without these "experts" and some times before mom gets a chance to try to teach! I wish our public school teachers had to freedom to allow more time when it comes to learning how to read....
Friday, October 19, 2007
All teachers and students know what burnout is. For the teacher or homeschool mom it’s when going through the motions of school becomes drudgery and the family is stressed out. For the student or child it’s when the mind just doesn’t absorb anymore, the ability to focus is lost, and eager learning has been replaced with frustration; a learner’s block. Just going through the motions of school had replaced the excitement of life and learning in my home.
Burnout was inevitable, but it caused me to take an honest look at my goals for my children’s education. It forced me to ask myself some very important questions. Was I homeschooling my children so that we could play school at home or was I homeschooling my children so that we could take advantage of their unique learning styles and their individual personalities and interests? Was I homeschooling my children to play school with them or so that they could learn effectively? Was I trying to engage their short term memories or to change their thinking and their lives? Who should be in charge of designing curriculum publishing companies or children? Should a school day have a beginning and an end or should children be free to learn from their community all day long?
The answers to these questions were obvious to me. Burnout was the symptom and change was the only cure. I put the school books away and I told my children that they were now in charge of what they would learn. I told them to make a list of everything that they loved or wanted to learn about. My daughter dictated her list and her list consisted of various fluffy creatures that you would find in a zoo. How’s that for a curriculum? We took our two lists to the Victoria Public Library. I told each child to checkout books about one or two of the items on their lists. My children took home about 20 books each and we spent the next few days on the living room floor surrounded by several piles of books. My daughter couldn’t read at the time so I read to her.
I remember that my son’s long list contained the word “rocks.” I remember “rocks” from that list because that topic took him on a self directed journey through various topics and subjects. It was amazing to watch my son’s list of interests morph and flow through these various topics. He was in about the 5th grade and his curiosities lead him from gems and minerals to a focus on diamonds which led him to try to memorize the periodic table of elements and then to learn how to convert Celsius into Fahrenheit – all knowledge that would never be tested on the fifth grade TAKS test or some standardized achievement test! One of the books on gems and minerals gave boiling and melting points in Celsius only. A reason to learn!
I remember my knee-jerk reaction when he handed me the periodic table of elements and said, “mom help me memorize this.” My first thought was, “But 5th graders don’t have to know this.” Isn’t that sad that my old mind-set would creep back in and limit my child? Allowing him to follow his interests actually freed him to learn about concepts that his 5th grade math or science texts didn't address. That year I learned about myself and my preconceived notions about children, learning, schooling, and testing. Do you think I learned to respect the TAKS test and it’s results that year?
Sitting on the floor in a pile of books exploring topics that my children were interested in was rewarding on a whole new level. I was connected with my children, learning with them, and my children were actively engaged in and in charge of their learning. I was a part of that learning journey and it did take us all, as a family, on a roller coaster ride through various subjects. Because they were learning about the things they enjoyed their days were filled with excitement and our home was full of eager learners once again!
When I feel burnout creeping back into my home these discussions of free schools, democratic schools, interest driven learning, and unschooling remind me to be more flexible and that change is needed in my home; a change that will free my children so that they can learn without frustration or drudgery.
We have experimented with many different educational philosophies and approaches over the years but that was as close to a "free school" as my family had ever been. I'll share other examples of my favorite memories of homeschooling later.
Monday, September 03, 2007
All we did this week for “school” was start on our Greek and Latin Roots binders. We are using "English from the Roots Up" as our guide. (You can find a list of common Greek and Latin roots on the internet and use that for free, but "English from the Roots up" has a list of derivative words and even a lesson to go with each root).
I printed out a little homemade sheet that has the name of the Greek or Latin root on the very top of the page and then a list of words that are derived from the root at the very bottom. I left a big space in the middle of the sheet for drawing and coloring. The child can then decide on how they want to illustrate the meaning of the root or the meaning of one of the derivatives.
For example, one of our roots this week was "tele" which means far away or distant. An example of one of the words was "telephone." Kelsey decided to draw a picture of a telephone to illustrate the meaning of the Greek
(image is of Kelsey's art work showing "telephone" and then a page from "English From the Roots Up")
For the root “photo” which means “light” Christian decided to draw a picture of a person taking a picture (photograph) of the Eiffel Tower. I will put these sheets in those clear plastic sheet protectors that have the three holes so that they can go into a three ring binder. Instant organization!
By the end of the year each child will have a HUGE binder full of his or her artwork which can serve as review of their Greek and Latin roots or which can go in our book shelves with the other books.
I think it’s cool to see “Kelsey’s Greek and Latin Roots” printed out on the spine of one of our books in our book shelves. She decorated a sheet that we slipped into the front of the binder, too.
We did this years ago when Kelsey was Christian's age and we still pull out the binder from time to time!
How could we tweak this and make it work with my high schooler? I am thinking that he can create a power point presentation to show each root, its meaning and derivatives by using pictures and sound. This would be part of his High School Language Arts (vocabulary) and Computer Science "credits." OR he could actually make a little book and try to have it published with one of the many self-publishing tools out there......
We created binders for other subjects too. I like this idea of creating binders because then you can make your study of history (or whatever the subject may be) last for several years. It's an ongoing learning project that you can ad to it as you come across information. Not only that but it's also an awesome way to review! And if you have to document learning, there it is!
Some examples of binders that we have made over the years are "Kelsey's Artwork" which included artwork from the time Kelsey was three years old. I would ask "What is this" and then label it and date it and stick it in the binder! I only did this with Kelsey because art is her bent. Another binder that we made was a Science binder. It was really just a collection of Robert Krampt's (how do you spell that) science experiments. Matthan created a "mind bender" binder where he kept his collection of brain teasers and riddles. I am keeping a binder with course details for my high schooler.....
Here are some samples from our World History binder:
A print out from "The Story of the World" and then Matthan's name in hieroglyphs that we found on the internet at virtual egypt, I think.
A writing project and a word search:
A color page and a map from "The Story of the World" and then a page that we printed out with some information that we found on the internet to ad to our binder:
Another root sheet. For "philia" which means "love" Kelsey drew a picture of a fox because she loves foxes. But, it led us on a wild goose chase as we searched the internet for a word meaning "lover of foxes" and even "fear of foxes" and couldn't find any so we created our own: lover of foxes = "vulpinphilia." LOL
Anyway, I want to get back to "note booking" or keeping binders to document our learning. Not that it is required in Texas to do so but because looking back at our old binders is a great review, a sort of SHOW AND TELL to friends and family, it tricks people in to thinking that you are organized, and also brings back great memories (for me.) Which makes me think, WHY NOT SCRAP-BOOK OUR LEARNING JOURNEY??? Because I'm lazy. I guess you could BLOG your learning journey! Imagine a WORLD HISTORY blog! We actually created one for our History Co-op one year. Where you link to images or information about what you are learning........
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Goths and Emos and Unschoolers and School-at-homers...
This thread reminds me of the many times I asked or saw others ask "What is the difference between 'unschooling' and 'homeschooling'" which reminded me of a question my daughter asked the other day. With her fingernails and toenails painted black she asked, "What's the difference between GOTH and EMO?" "'Emo' and 'Goth' aren't they both freaks?" was my first reaction. I bet when anti-homeschool people see someone ask, "What's the difference between homeschooling and unschooling" they think the same thing, "aren't they both crazy?"
In our search to find the answer, to the Goth vs EMO question, we realized that there were as many definitions for each label as there were people who claimed to be one or the other. There also seemed to be much concern about who was a true GOTH and who was just a wanna be. Sure, there were some common characteristics for each, but still, the definitions were fluid.
I said, "Be above the labels." Don't worry about the labels or other peoples' image wars. Look at how they both claim that they aren't "conformists" but aren't they conforming to each other? There's a type of peer pressure to adhere to these peer-produced not-so-norms.
And then we found out that there were not just "goths" and "emos" there are "punks" too. Just when you thought you had figured out these two labels you find out that there are not just unschoolers and homeschoolers but there are "eclectic" homeschoolers and even "John Holt unschoolers" too!!! What the heck.
We didn't get anywhere. So we played around with some GOTH paper dolls and she realized that it was actually all kind of silly. People want to belong. It's what makes us cling so tightly to a group or label.
I told her that I loved the way that she dresses! I love her camo capris with all the pockets and buttons and how her t-shirts are always so long. I love her flip flops and her hair in her face. I love the way she is and everyone should be just like her - she's so neat! She should be proud of who she is and not worry about other groups. She's such a cool person! Then I realized, "Hey, I was GOTH and EMO before they had a label for it!" (went through that phase 25 years ago.)
But, seriously, I want to be above the labels. I don't want to be an "unschooler" or a "school at homer." We are just a family living and learning together and that means we can fit into all these labels or none depending on the mood. I can identify with all and with none. I love the way we are and I love the people my children are becoming. Let other people who are so inclined entertain themselves by trying to define us. I am not worried about their conclusions.
Don't identify with a label and don't try to fit into one. If you don't wear your label like a banner you won't be offended when you feel someone isn't on your team. There are only imagined teams anyway. GOTH vs EMO wars or the UNSCHOOLER vs School-at-Homer wars - hey, we are all freaks when it gets down to it. Be above the labels.
We've had some fun with this EMO GOTH thing. When I was taking this picture she wanted to make sure that some of her hair was covering one eye. When I was uploading her images to Xanga, Kelsey said, "See you later, I'm going to go write some depressing poetry!" She has also painted her little brother's fingernails BLUE.
I like to say, "ELMO instead of EMO." (Reminds me of that cartoon where the little boy opens his Christmas present and finds a "POLKA MAN" inside. His parents say, "you wanted a polka man, right?")
And speaking of LABELS and STEREO TYPES - THE BREAKFAST CLUB has been on T.V. lately! I love that movie!
Monday, March 12, 2007
I'm ecstatic that my three year old understands that there exists tiny squiggly lines that he calls, "A B C's." That's all a three year old needs to know about reading. This is the first step towards literacy. My intent, at this stage, is to just refer to those squiggly lines as "ABC's" and to make no distinction among them. Though some letters you can't help pointing out. The "O" looks like a circle or a ball and the golden arches are hard to avoid. Is “M” the first letter all children learn?
At this same time he is going through a stage where he won't eat and I'm trying desperately to find some food that will be palatable to him. While at the grocery store, I told my children to pick out anything that they would eat. My three year old picked out several cans of "ABCs." I asked him if he thought that the soup would taste good just because of the large, colorful, puffy "A" "B" and "C" printed on the label, and of course he said 'yes.' I warned him that it was a can of chicken noodle soup and that he didn't like chicken noodle soup, but he wanted "ABC's." So we bought several cans of alphabet soup.
Today, when I asked my children what they wanted to eat, my three year old shouted, "ABC's!" As he stared into his bowl, I took his spoon and fished out some letters. His big sister pointed out the "H for hhhhhhhhiney" so I dragged a refrigerator magnet 'H' down to where he could see it. As he captured individual "ABC's" in his spoon he would ask, "what this one do?" and we would tell him, "That's a W for wwwwwwwwwow" or "that's P p p p pop pop." We did this over and over again until I thought he was finished.
I began cleaning up some dishes at the sink, and he called me over again, "what this one do?" In his spoon was a green pea. He knows what peas are. I thought about telling him, "That's a pea," but then I realized how confusing that might sound in light of our recent conversations. I told him, "That's an O like a ball." I should have said, "That's a vegetable," or something like that. I didn't think that he might be asking because he knew the little green thing in his spoon was a "pea" but I had just told him that the squiggly noodle shaped like a "P" was a pea. This little inconsistency stuck out in his mind. He had to question it.
I think that's how children's minds work! If something doesn't make sense they set out to solve the mystery or to understand it! That's wild untamed learning. Children are scientist-detectives, naturally. He only asked about each letter once as if he remembered which letter he had captured and inquired about. Do you think he remembered each one? I don't know, and maybe not in the way I would prefer him to because he later told me that "H hhhhh is for butt. "
March 3, 2004
I am schizophrenic when it comes to living my philosophy of education. I remind myself of a two headed dragon. One head looks like your stereotypical librarian and carries a crop and the other has chocolate all over the face from eating bonbons with the children. Unschooling is a natural but sometimes terrifying lifestyle for me. I freak out every once in awhile and panic because ‘we are not doing enough.’ Yesterday, that fear reared its ugly head and compelled me to dig up my son’s old Language workbook, which I wish I had thrown away.
Looking where we left off, I realized that we should be learning about paragraphs: what a topic sentence is, how to construct them. I tried to show my son how important it was to learn about “paragraphs,” so I got out seven Language text books; texts that would be used from 6th to 12th grades. These texts were some used by our local public school and had been given to us. I opened each of these seven books to the section on “paragraphs” and placed them all out on the floor in front of my son. I said, “See! If we were using and keeping up with our curriculum we would be learning about paragraphs every year for seven years! That’s how important it is to learn about constructing paragraphs!” Something about saying those words out loud ended my panic attack.
If my son were in public or private school or we were using a traditional curriculum he would be learning many of the same things over and over each year. Not only that, but each year starts out with a review of the year before. Traditional education is much like a soap opera: you can jump in at anytime and easily pick up on the plot.
I showed my husband how the table of contents were the same in EACH book year after year. Even Language books sold by other companies have basically this same table of contents. Why?? My husband said, “Well, we kept forgetting the information so we had to learn it again each year.” If this is true, why not learn the information that final year, like, in 12th grade? Even in my college freshman English course we had to purchase a book with a similar table of contents including how to construct a paragraph. Another suggested book was Strunk and White's, "The Elements of Style," which I highly recommend to anyone. It starts out with an explanation on "how to form the possessive singular of nouns by adding 's." So, if you didn't pick up how to add an 's to show possession somewhere during the 13 years of your public education, Strunk and White will be right there to teach you so that you can pass your Freshman English course! I still use this book to this day because for the life of me I can't remember how to properly use a colon and a semicolon. I am sure that I passed the 'colon and semicolon tests' in Junior High and High School.
I figure that as long as we are: keeping journals, reading books together, and researching whatever interests us; we will be fine! Basically, if my children enjoy reading and writing, they will have an advantage over children who are forced to read and write all of their lives and who might end up hating reading and writing.
Looking at how traditional curriculum is basically the same information year after year, helped me to relax. Even if we start “formal” academics in High School we won’t miss anything. I am totally delaying “formal academics” and focusing on relationships and having fun together while my children are young. Childhood is so brief and our home is not a school. I don’t want to create childhood memories of school work and stress, instead, I want to create good memories of being a loving home.
We flew kites outside in our front yard. I would rather my children fly a kite than sit in a desk learning how to construct a paragraph. They’ll have plenty of time for that. Right now they are gaining the experiences that they can one day write about.
I’m not for burning books or banning books, but, I think a practical hobby for my family should be origami. I can think of at least seven books with hundreds of pages with which we can start.
February 15, 2002
Today I woke up to find Matthan looking through various History books. The name of one, in particular, is "The last 1000 years" by Dempsey Parr. I thought to myself, "If he is looking through a history book, I am not going to stop him for school." Was it Mark Twain that said, "I never let schooling get in the way of my education." I decided to fold clothes and wait until he got tired of the book, but he was really involved! In the back of this book there are many lists: Important battles; Prime Ministers; Notable People, etc.
While I was unloading the dishwasher, Matthan quizzed me on the U.S. presidents and then made fun of some rulers' names. He noticed that there were Danish Monarchs who were named, "Christian" like his little brother. He later asked, "Mom, why are there still Kings and Queens?" He had noticed that many countries who had once had Kings or Queens, didn't have them any more, but a few countries still did. He then went to the computer to look up Elizabeth II in the encyclopedia. This, strangely, lead us into a tour of Composers. I didn't know that J.S. Bach had a son who was a composer. His son's name was Christian! We listened to several excerpts of classical music which somehow lead us to World Languages, then we hopped to population growth charts which lead us to probability.
Our Encarta Encyclopedia has an "interactivity" section involving probability using a pair of dice. The computer can instantly generate and graph the results of up to 6,000 rolls which, when the results are graphed, would create a bell curve.** We made our own chart and rolled our own dice to see these results for ourselves. Then we flipped a penny about 100 times to see if we could show that there is a 1 in 2 chance of it landing head side up or tail side up. Then we used a paper cup! You know out of 100 tosses it landed on it's side 85 times! I think we might have tasted a bit of what John Taylor Gatto meant when he said that there is a difference between "school" and "education." What did Matthan and I learn? Nothing! But, Christian learned about gravity!
I had no idea that "chance" (probability) was a field of Mathematics! Things that seem random, might not always be, or they are predictably random.
**There are 36 possible different outcomes when you roll a pair of dice which will add up to either 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12. You have a 1 in 36 chance of rolling a 2 - "snake eyes," or a 1 in 36 chance of rolling a 12, with 7 being the most probable with a 6 in 36 chance or a 1 in 6 chance if you reduce the fraction. There are six different ways that the dice can land and add up to 7. See how this can create the bell curve?
Saturday, February 03, 2007
1. All names of person, places, things,
Are NOUNS, as Caesar,
2. PRONOUNS are used in place of nouns:
I think; she sings; they work; he frowns
3. When the kind you wish to state,
Use an ADJECTIVE, as great.
4. But if of manner you would tell,
Use ADVERBS, such as slowly, well.
To find an adverb, this test try:
Ask, “How?” or “When?” or “Where?” or “Why?”
5. PREPOSITIONS show relation,
As with respect, or in our nation.
6. CONJECTIONS, as their name implies,
Are joining words; they are the ties
That bind together day and night,
Calm but cold, dull or bright.
7. Next we have the VERBS, which tell
Of action, being, and state as well.
To work, succeed, achieve, and curb—
Each one of these is called a VERB.
8. The INTERJECTIONS show surprise,
As Oh! Alas! Ah me! How wise!
Thus briefly does this jingle state
The PARTS OF SPEECH, which total eight.
(Some authorities give a ninth part of speech, the ARTICLE. A and an are called the indefinite articles, and the is known as the definite article. The words are, in reality, adjectives….)
This is from an English course copyright 1930s. “The New Self-Teaching Course in Practical English and Effective Speech” by Estelle B. Hunter, Ph.B. The Better-Speech Institute of
"Let the questions be the curriculum" Socrates
Monday, January 29, 2007
Friday, January 26, 2007
We went on a field trip the other day to H.E.B. Plus. It’s our latest and greatest supermarket. You may wonder, “A field trip to your grocery store??” But, it was really nice! When we arrived the lady gave each child a crown, a buddy buck, and a balloon. Then we all got free cocoa. It was a very cold and rainy day – flood warnings even – so the hot cocoa really hit the spot. My son was the first to spill his all over the floor. We then toured the produce area and learned to use the scale to weigh our produce. We then learned about where some of the snow crabs, fish, and other seafood came from. The children got to see a live lobster up close and listen to some facts about them. They got to go inside the store’s main cooler and the milk cooler and then each got a group picture over in the photo area. Then the group ate lunch at chic fil a so that the little ones could go crazy in the play area.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Friday, January 05, 2007
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
The one thing that has eluded me in my 10 years of homeschooling is organization. Wait, two things: organization and consistency. Coincidentally these are the two most important prerequisites to my peace and sanity. One I can't control. Children change and grow; interests wax, wane, and morph. Maybe consistency will, understandably, forever be elusive. We have tried everything to remain organized here in the home but nothing has "stuck."
Our home doesn't have much storage and we have no built-in book shelves for my obsession - BOOKS! Giving each child a crate for their materials worked very well because if we ever had to leave the house and stay with a family member we could just grab our crates and go! The little one had blocks and coloring books to tow. The downside was that the high-schooler's crate could only be lifted by Hercules.
One year I emptied out part of the pantry and put all of our most used books, games, and materials right by the dining room table for easy access and clean-up. This was wonderful until our family grew, or we acquired more junk, and we needed the WHOLE pantry for food and kitchen materials.
One year I decided that each child's room could house their learning materials and books but that was the same year we lost many of our educational investments to the abyss of the toy boxes or closets.
For this new school year I cleaned out our laundry room-mud room and lined one side of the room, floor to ceiling, with bookshelves. I gave each child their own level of shelves to store their own books, educational games, and writing utensils. This worked beautifully for the first few months but you can imagine the chaos that eventually resulted! You have probably already wondered, "MUD and BOOKS are you a paper wasp??" We would find missing books under the pile of dirty clothes.
Since we do most of our learning together as a family we have morphed into a system I can only describe as rotating learning stations. We seemed to all gravitate to the cozy couches in the living room while learning about history so I have put all of the books we use for history in the living room. I also placed the globe in the living room on the coffee table so that we can easily spin it to find the country or region on which we are focusing. We seemed to all sit at the dining room table for math so I put all of our Math materials in the dining room: a little television for our videos and a dry erase board to solve problems. The supplies and manipulatives can quickly and easily be removed if the President comes for dinner. Science seems to happen in the kitchen but that will change when we have specimens to dissect and store. Maybe Biology will happen on the picnic table in the back yard!
Only one thing has remained the same in those ten years - CHANGE! Maybe two: inconsistency and disorganization. Maybe three: inconsistency, disorganization, and insanity! That's not good when your three most prominent character traits start with "in" and "dis."