Monday, March 12, 2007

Alphabet Soup

Learning happens all the time and doesn't have to look like school; it can look like play or even lunch.

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. "

A Bad Day

My "paragraph panic attack"

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.

A Good Day

Selection from my Journal

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?