Tuesday, September 22, 2009

World History vs Acorn 101

I have confessed to you that we are very relaxed in my home. Some people might even say that we are lazy. Well, my daughter must have agreed with "some people" because the other day she told me that she wanted to do real school with real text books and real tests. I told her that if that's what she wanted to do then we needed to do that.

Where else can a student become so academically bored that they become motivated to create their own schedule; their own course of study? I think it's important for a child to come to the conclusion that their education is their responsibility and it's important for that child to become self motivated and an autonomous learner...

Side note: Apparently, in the homeschool or unschool community, it is common for many students to take control and direct their learning at about the age of 11-13. This is the age when my first born also sat me down and told me how he wanted his school to look. Actually, he wanted it to look just like Crain Middle School, so I enrolled him. =D

My daughter and I sat down and talked about what subjects she wanted to learn. She said she wanted to learn the same subjects she would have to learn if she attended a public school: reading, writing, math, history, and science. When she decided on which subjects she wanted to include in her course of study we looked through our collection of various learning materials and programs so that she could choose the ones which would suit her. I have some courses on DVD, some courses and texts on computer, and even a few text books in MP3 format. Pick your poison!

After we decided on materials or approaches to each subject she created a weekly schedule. It reminded me of a college schedule and it was built around her already existing extra curricular activities. You know, "Thursdays are tennis and volleyball practice so I only want to read and write in my journal that day." She only wanted to do World History twice a week and Physical Science once a week.

Well today's schedule called for reading, writing, and World History. But, we weren't alone. Last night after her out-of-town volleyball game two of her teammates spent the night. I had told their mom that they could join us for school in the morning. We could all learn some world history together! I imagined each girl with iPod Touch in hand researching various historical figures, civilizations, regions... a little cooperative learning group in my living room. We had three times the research power in my house today!

However, we woke up to the most beautiful weather and that pushed school to the back burner. I feel bad that I didn't force World History but there was so much going on in our backyard! First off, it was cool and windy, eventually a cat caught a hummingbird and ate it in front of us, and the neighbor's tree was filling up the backyard with acorns.

I gave the children a bucket and begged them to collect them so we had a bucket full of acorns.

We were all lounging around on patio furniture or porch swings with our ipods when I asked the girls if they knew whether or not acorns were edible. I tweeted the question and then googled it. You know how you lose track of time when playing on the internet? By the time I found my answer the girls were inside.

The girls had done their own research and were in the process of tasting fried acorn that they had already boiled, peeled, and fried!

Well, I had read that acorns contain tannins which can be toxic so I had the girls bring me leaves from the oaks around the house. We used "Trees of Victoria" to identify the specific oaks so that I could get more information on the acorns we had just tasted. They tasted like nutty squash... and were not bitter at all.

Did you know that acorns were a staple to some native Americans? They would place the acorns in a basket in a river to cleanse them of the toxins. How did they know to do this without google? They were truly educated!

It just blows me away how every time we set out to learn about one thing we jump track and end up learning about something else. When we do that we are doing the opposite of school. We are learning from what life throws at us, in this case, acorns.

The beauty of learning in freedom - not having any time restrictions on when we "school" - is that it's not too late to watch our history DVD and maybe read some of "Pride and Prejudice" before bed. I'm pretty sure my daughter's schedule will be honored by midnight. ;)

Never mind, I know it will, because three girls just walked in and said, "Let's do school!"

Guess we are doing night school.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Dragons and Rockets and Pi, Oh My!

I attended a Homeschool 101 meeting for new homeschoolers and I was blown away by some of the observations and examples of "interest driven learning" and "child directed" learning and how allowing a child to follow his passions and interests unfolds as the child matures and grows. As the child gets older he may go from asking hundreds of questions about a wide range of subjects to honing in and becoming an expert in one.

The typical scope and sequence designed for the classroom can work against that natural learning and curiosity for the child learning in freedom - the home. It seems mind boggling that strictly adhering to a program designed to teach children "everything they need to know when they need to know it" could actually slow some children down. A few of us have observed this.

I heard a few examples but I have an example of how my children's curiosities take us away from our school books or my lesson plans:

The other day I decided to read "Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi" to my children for math. Looking through the book I realized that there were a few words I needed to familiarize myself with: circle, radius, diameter, and circumference...

I wrote these words on one of our dry erase boards and let the children witness as I review-taught. That's mom purposefully thinking out loud as she familiarizes herself with something she should know by now. Believe it or not my children have learned much from my bad memory.

For radius I told the children to think of sun rays. I drew a sun and several "rays" which "emanated from one point." I drew these rays about the same length which eventually suggested the shape of a bigger circle. (This was to set up my explanation of circumference.) As I drew these many "rays" I said, "rays" and "radius" out loud.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the book: Just mentioning the word "sun" set my seven year old off into a question tangent. He wanted to know "how come our sun is a small star but it's so bright?"

I explained that our sun is very close to us compared to the other stars and that is why it appears bigger and brighter... I didn't finish my explanation because that triggered another question, "How far away is the sun from earth?"

My hubby and I couldn't remember so I said, "I don't know the exact distance but if you headed towards the sun in a rocket it might take several months to get there." I added, "If you headed for the nearest galaxy at light speed you wouldn't get there in your life time..." Which brought up more questions... "How fast is light speed?" which triggered more questions...and more...

We ended up in a family discussion of what all it would take to get a human to the nearest galaxy - alive.

It is common for one topic to trigger curiosity about other topics. This is part of the reason many homeschoolers see adhering to a typical scope and sequence as limiting their child's learning.

Even my own plans to read a book and to talk to my children about "radius" had us orbiting subjects like "the solar system" and "light speed."

I think these questions that take us away from the lesson plan can be more important than the lesson. When a child asks questions it shows that child is thinking. Thinking should be the goal of learning and not just finishing a workbook. The questions can then be the curriculum.

Trying to review these words so that I could read a book I planned to read sparked so many questions that we almost didn't make it to the book. It got to the point where I told the kids, "Go get your notebooks because I want to read this story to you TODAY but keep asking questions and I'll write them down..."

The story is about a little boy who has to solve a riddle to save his father's life. The riddle is the definition of Pi and the little boy has to find that number. You get to be there for his "ah hah" moment and you are there as he tests his theory on an onion, a pie, a wagon wheel...

After we read the book we did our own hands-on discovery of Pi. We collected several round objects from the kitchen and cut strips of paper the exact length of the diameters. Then we could see how for each object (circle) three of the diameter sized strips fit around the circumferences "with some left over."

Days later we are still using the questions and looking up and talking about exact distance from the earth to sun, astronomical units, and today (now a few days ago) I said something crazy like, "I guess the closest we can get to time travel is looking up at the stars at night." Which was a remnant of our discussion of "light years" and galaxies being so far away it would take several generations to get there...

So we have already "put down the school books" to go off down a "bunny path" as one veteran mom put it...

This is an example of what I mean when I talk about focusing on the learning and avoiding the schooly things. I will abandon our "school" for "learning." The questions are the superior curriculum and I will "let the questions be the curriculum."