This blog is where we share our homeschooling journey. Our style is eclectic, employing strategies like notebooking, workboxing, and some relaxed unschooling I like to call organic or free-range learning.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Studying Birthday 101

We just completed an intensive, all-consuming and vital unit study at Wonder World Academy...Birthday 101. That's right, we treated Brianna's birthday as a serious educational opportunity, and we were able to cover all school subjects through the planning and execution of a 5th birthday party!

This is one of the things I absolutely love about running a homeschool..."sneaking" in classwork without my child ever being aware she's in learning mode, because we're all having so much fun. It's even better than that private thrill a mom gets when she sneaks pureed vegetables into the spaghetti sauce and watches her kids devour it.

Just a few subjects we "taught" over the course of her birthday extravaganza:

Home Skills

Brianna did some hands-on homemaking tasks, including cooking, cleaning, and serving her guests. One of her gifts was a set of lace-up alphabet cards, to introduce beginner sewing skills (as well as some letter reinforcement).


We used many aspects of her party as an opportunity to teach math and counting skills. Counting balloons as we blew them up, measuring ingredients for her party food, estimating mini m&m's to decorate the tops of her cupcakes, counting the number of guests, counting and subtracting presents (how many, now you opened one, how many are left?), etc. And of course there were also time concepts explored here--how many days/weeks/hours left until the party, how much longer until the party is over, how many minutes until time to open gifts, etc.


Since she wanted to make her own cupcakes, baking is always a great time for a hands-on chemistry lesson. We also had some weather issues discussed that day--half the party was outside, half in, and the day was very hot and wind picked up and played havoc with decorations.


A lot can be done for art around a birthday! Making invitations is a natural, and decorations or party favors, of course. When it's someone else's special day, making gifts or the wrapping paper is also fun. With Bri, she helped with her decorations, and was kept busy during some of the "how much LONGER?" moments by giving her crafts to do.


We read several birthday-related stories prior to the big day, plus we used streamers with "Happy Birthday" words and decorated her pumpkin with words for letter/word recognition, used Happy Birthday words in her bedroom decor, and showed her directions as they were read (she's not reading on her own yet) for her cupcakes and decorations as needed.

Social Studies

This included social expectations and traditions at a party--being a polite host to guests, the order that activities typically occur, how certain birthday traditions came about, and just plain interacting with her extended family and friends made this a wonderful lesson in social studies. What's more, as part of the day's party we hosted a canned food drive to benefit a local her special day became about giving as much as receiving.

Phys Ed

Racing around upstairs and down to set up, doing party games and playing hostess was a good way to run off some steam!

Part of being a good hostess is making sure ALL your guests get fed--even your newborn niece!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Beauty of Self-Motivation

When I was new to the idea of home schooling (nearly 20 years ago), I didn't feel capable of flinging caution to the wind and launching headlong into a learning odyssey. Instead I kept a close tie to the public school, using their "approved" curriculum. Every morning I dutifully sat the children (all of them, regardless of age) at the table for "lesson time," and once a week ushered them to a meeting with the districts' chosen teacher to "supervise" our progress. In the end, I felt it was MY ability being tested, not my children's.

Well, that's the official version, anyway. Even in those early Nervous Nellie days, I found myself rebelling and veering off into the uncharted waters of learning for the sheer joy of it. In our backyard dirt, the dinner table, and the grocery store we found endless and fascinating curricula for science, math, history, and reading. In these "classrooms," the children's eyes never glazed over with confusion, their attention never wavered, and they never had to ask, "when are we going to be done with this WORK so we can play?" In these settings, play was serious work...and learning was play.

Fast forward twenty years, and I'm a much different home schooling animal. Brianna does not sit through rote instruction, nor boring-but-necessary "lessons" at the table. Oh sure, we sit there--to eat, talk, draw, sculpt, glue, cut, work with letters, and many other things. But this is not class "work." To be sure, Bri is learning with every blueberry she counts out to make smileys in her bowl of oatmeal, and with every saved popsicle stick added to a model dinosaur "skeleton." But before long we rise and leave that tiny space behind...and take learning with us everywhere we go.

Math and reading and science need not take place with my busy, kinesthetic learner planted in her seat, kicking a foot impatiently against the chair leg while wishing it was over already. When the world is your classroom "table," your child's eye never stops looking for things to absorb, and their questions never fail to keep a childlike wonder from your own eyes. There is never the problem or challenge of how to get the kids motivated or how to keep them interested.

In short, it jump starts a child's natural inclination to be a happy, willingly self-motivated learner.

Here's Bri learning about "snow" for the very first time (we live in a hot climate). Good science activity for early study in solids vs liquids, slippery vs not, cold vs hot, etc. Also a good art project--she sculpted all kinds of things in that snow. Considering this was a scorching 95-degree summer day, these were explored by Bri MOST gratefully. ("Snow" courtesy of the LA County Fair.)

A petting zoo is pretty much a "gimme" activity for animal science, but what a great place for math! Counting/grouping/sorting animals, counting out feed pellets for each, etc. Also reading (signs with important instructions--"exit," "don't feed donkeys," etc) and health ed (why are there hand washing/sanitizing stations just outside the exit?). This was also at the county fair.

And yes, I absolutely count Bri's trips down the giant slide and later turn on the whirling roller coaster ride as an object lesson in physics and centrifugal force. :)

What's this picture doing in a blog about home schooling, you ask? Believe it or not, this shot was taken during a lesson. Daddy got a nerf gun for his birthday (hey, you're never too old to play!) and Bri begged to try. Instead of merely letting her run hither and yon, we used this as an opportunity to do some backwards and forwards math calculations--how many foam darts did you shoot? How many are left before you run out? Did you find them all, or are some still missing? Not to mention some basic velocity tests.

Bottom line, when learning has captured the imagination of parent and child alike, everything is an opportunity to educate, and every educational task is an opportunity for fun. Sure, we have texts and worksheets and other such classroom gadgetry. But there's not a lesson out there that can't be learned in some joyous, exciting manner that is so personal to our daughter that she can't help but be moved by it. I can't wait to see what we are going to learn next.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Last weekend we had the opportunity to let Bri learn about Hawaiian culture. My husband is Hawaiian, and we'd always wanted to start exposing her to that side of her culture. What more fun way than to go to a luau? Our complex here hosted the shindig, and to help prepare we had Brianna watch her dad practice for his fire dance, and he taught her and I a keiki's (child's) game called poi balls. The day before, we visited the luau aisle of our local party center and let her pick out components for her "authentic" costume. As a tie-in, she asked to watch Disney's Lilo and Stitch.

The luau had Hawaiian food, and a hula teacher was on hand to teach guests the bora bora, which Bri just loved. Her grandmother is a old-school hula instructor who speaks fluent Hawaiian, and I wish we lived close enough for her to really glean that knowledge...perhaps someday. We will of course add to and expand her knowledge of Hawaii as she gets older, but this was a nice start for a 4-year-old.

Bri got to watch her father participate in an impressive cultural activity--the blur you see here is all my camera could catch of his after-dark fire dance performance. Plus it was a great opportunity for her to mingle with people of all ages and play games while learning, too, between a hula hoop contest, hula bowling, and water balloon toss (a great experiment in cause and effect!).

Who says homeschool kids don't get "socialized?"