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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What Do Homeschoolers Do About Summer?

Brianna, summer 2008

Now that June is ending and summer is getting into full swing, the question of how to handle "summer vacation" in a homeschooling household comes up. Do we follow the old tradition of two or more months' leave? Take a more "track" schooling approach and do a few months on, one off? Or does the homeschooling family crack the whip and make every day a School Day?

For those of you who have read earlier posts on this blog, you'll know that our household takes the road to education less traveled...even among homeschoolers. We use "unschooling," or a curriculum-free curriculum largely based on every day life experiences. In so doing, we not only take a unique approach to lessons, but to our downtime as well.

In general, Wonder World Academy runs 365 days per year, at least 16 hours per day. (I figure my child is still learning while she sleeps, as dreams and interpretation is one of our which case, we are in operation 24/7.) Sounds harsh, doesn't it? How could we push our child so hard? How can we ignore the human need for downtime needed to recharge mentally, physically, and emotionally?

Some days you gotta just stop and squeeze the lamb chop

Well, I said our school "runs" all year long, not that we don't have fun time and R&R. We celebrate holidays, have goof off days, scheduled days where video games are practically mandatory, and yes, a summer vacay coming up where I have arranged to have sixteen glorious days away from my job to focus on doing whatever we want. Nevertheless, our school will not be taking a vacation from learning.

The days leading up to vacation are currently filled with counting and time concepts (ticking days off the calendar), math and money (saving piggy bank money to be turned in on Day 1 of vacation to be spent as we please), organization skills (discussion about how to maximize our activities during the time off), reading (vacation ideas books from the library, websites, etc), science (weather during vacation, etc.), and more. When the vacation arrives, there will be more money/math (wise budgeting, counting How Much Money Is Left, etc.), reading for entertainment and to help select activities, social studies as we take in local town offerings, art projects, science (making ice cream, discussing pool chemicals, buoyancy in water, rate of ice melt), and music/fine arts (via local summer theater and concerts).

Every minute will be a learning experience for Bri, yet hopefully fun ones. As our teaching strategy focuses largely around finding "Teachable Moments," vacation will provide a bounty of these if we're paying attention. In short, we are in the midst of a vitally important Vacation Unit Study that may well incorporate everything from photography to gravity (what goes up must come down in the farmer's market Bounce House).

Photo courtesy of Stock Xchg

So whether your kids are homeschooled, unschooled, private or public schooled, as they are running around with sand between their toes and ice cream on their faces this summer, don't forget that they aren't truly on vacation. Learning is a process that never stops, and we as parents can help it along when our kids least expect it. Happy summer!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Teachable Moments #3

When Do I Teach ______?

Part 3 of a 3-part series on using Teachable Moments to boost a child's learning experience.

Last time we saw an example of how easy it is to find teachable moments if you know what to look for--and how easy they are to overlook if you are a slave to the ShouldBe committee's schedule. Today we'll cover why teachable moments do NOT mean children will inevitably be "behind" in their studies.

Admittely I left us in something of a cliffhanger last time. In a shocking move, Johnny's mom callously shoved aside the ShouldBe's calendar and let Johnny do a science project instead of practicing the writing he's getting really "behind" on.

How will poor Johnny ever learn to write if Mom doesn't make him do it?

Let's fast forward to Johnny in the 4th grade, shall we?

Let's assume Johnny's mother kept up this What I Want To Learn Right Now stuff. 4th grade Johnny is hard at work hand writing a science report on the life cycle of parasites (an 8th grade project according to ShouldBe's, since he loves science and has had many What I Want moments involving it). He's also well ahead in math, and at his grade level in other areas except fine arts. He writes his report without whining or complaint and looks forward to learning each day, because he loves what he's doing.

But did the writing thing happen? He didn't love THAT, and couldn't even write the alphabet by the end of kindergarten.

Well, a miraculous thing happened around the middle of first grade. Johnny was going to the science museum and wanted to write down a list of all the different rocks in the mineral exhibit. His mother astutely noted a long-awaited Teachable Moment and brought along some large pencils and a notepad. He carefully copied the letters he saw on each rock's display plaque. One thing lead to another, and within a few weeks he was writing all his letters. By the end of second grade, he was writing more complex stories than most traditional school counterparts, most about science. So did his mother's "lax" approach to writing damage his education? Quite the contrary.

Oh, and there's that pesky matter of Johnny still being "behind" in art. He grows bored with trying to make artsy stuff when there's so much science to learn about. Ahh, but soon enough his parasites report will involve drawings he wants to include, ones he will realize don't match up to the quality he wants for information of this complexity. He can ask Mom to help him Google art tutorials to help his drawing skills, or perhaps he'll go 3-D and do a gumdrop and toothpick sculpture. These "boring" art projects will be embraced readily and without complaint, because then it will be Johnny's What I Want To Learn Most Right Now time. Score another one for the teachable moment!

Naturally, not all the examples in this series work out so exact in real life. Some children get frustrated easily no matter what, and others may need a bit of clever motivation to trigger teachable moments with subjects they don't enjoy. (See my blog post on No Math Day for a sneaky example.) Still, I'd rather not drag my kid through rote schooling she'll happily forget later just to say we did it "on time." I'd much rather raise a child who loves to read, write, explore science, and appreciate art because she's embraced each of them on her own terms. Potential employers don't care at what age applicants learned to spell their names, so why should I?

So I say be bold, let go, and trust the fantasmagorical learning process of a child. You'll be glad you did.


I hope you've found this series useful. I may add more tidbits on Teachable Moments later. Feel free to share YOUR tips on using this technique as well.

Until next time remember---in a homeschooling family, class is never dismissed! Keep on learning...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Teachable Moments #2

When Do I Teach ______?

Part 2 of a 3-part series on using Teachable Moments to boost a child's learning experience.

In the last post I defined what a teachable moment is and gave an example every parent might face. Today we'll apply the concept of teachable moments to home school lessons.

So let's say the ShouldBe committee (aka mother-in-law, neighbor, school district, etc.) says that all children Should Be writing complete paragraphs by the end of kindergarten. Mom drills Johnny dutifully each day, trying not to panic when the calendar pages slip away and he hasn't even mastered half of the uppercase alphabet yet. Meanwhile, with each lesson he looks bored and distracted, kicks the table leg, and grows frustrated--maybe tearful--when he can't get his "A" right. Sound familiar? I've had it happen to me with most all of my kids at one time or another, and here's how a typical conversation might go during such a lesson:

Johnny: "Writing is stupid. When can we do that science project?"
Mom: "Not until you finish practicing these letters."
Johnny: "No! I hate writing!" (Followed by tears.)

In this instance, Mom overlooks a perfectly good Teachable Moment because of the ShouldBe committee. In fairness to Mom, this can be a tempting choice when such committees are quite vocal and official sounding about what our kids Should Be doing.

But let's take so-called experts, expectations, and fear of failure out of the equation for a moment. Who decided what a child has to learn when? How well did that person/committee know YOUR child? Will this change five years from now? You bet! They changed every time I enrolled one of my kids in a public school. So I take such guidelines with a grain of salt.

So ShouldBe's aside, the key to recognizing how and when to teach your child anything is to take the pressure off yourself. Our kids WILL learn. No kid goes off to college still wearing diapers, though when I had a resistant toddler I felt that way at times! Truly, the BEST expert on how and when your child will learn most effectively is...your child.

Let's review the above scenario again from a Teachable Moment approach.

Johnny is writing his letters, but Mom notices he looks bored, sighs, and kicks the table leg. She suspects this may not be a teachable moment for writing.

Mom: "How's our writing practice going?"
Johnny: "Not good. When can we do that science project?"
Mom: "Great idea! Here, let's put the writing supplies away and do it now."
Johnny: "Yay!"

Success! This mom is much more likely to find her son's school day productive, as he has an active interest in the subject being taught.

But wait! How will Johnny learn to write? What if I said he may not? Not for a while, anyway. How could any self respecting homeschooler make such a statement? Hang on, I'm about to get to the Promised Land!

Stay tuned for part 3 of my series, where I'll discuss why following the natural course of teachable moments does NOT mean leaving a child "behind" in their studies...regardless of what the ShouldBe's say.

Until then remember---in a homeschooling family, class is never dismissed! Keep on learning...

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Teachable Moments #1

When Do I Teach ______?

Part 1 of a 3-part series on using Teachable Moments to boost a child's learning experience.

A frequent topic of discussion among homeschoolers is what they need to be teaching when. On the groups I belong to I see questions like,

*What should my kindergartener know by the end of the first year?

*Is it too soon to start teaching my child to write?

*What if my child ends a school year not knowing___(insert random item here)?

One of the amazing things I've discovered about unschooling is the ability to use "teachable moments" to address the above issues.

What's a teachable moment? The time when an individual is most likely to retain specific information. This moment varies greatly from person to person, and in the same person depending on situation. It's something I learned as an adult educator, but it applies just as much to children. And because teachable moments are different for everyone, the technique is impossible to employ across the board in a public or private school setting.

To understand teachable moments, let me first mention a few moments I have found are definitely NOT teachable moments for kids (or anyone, for that matter):

1. When they are hungry
2. When they are cranky
3. When they are in pain
4. When they are distracted by something more compelling

I don't find these the best times to teach a child, unless, of course, you are teaching them about what it's like to feel hungry, cranky, etc.

Great! you say. So does that mean any other time is teachable? Not quite. The above covers some of the WHEN for teaching, but not the WHAT. To truly discover What goes When, a parent must watch their child for easy to spot clues. These clues will answer one special question:

What I Want To Learn MOST Right Now Is ______.

Fill in the blank, and you'll have your child's teachable moments handed to you.

Let's use a typical parenting example to explain what I mean. Mom decides to teach Johnny, her pre-teen, to wash the dishes. He argues, rolls his eyes and offers groans of resistance the whole way. It becomes an unpleasant task for all.

Now, let's back up several years to Johnny as a preschooler. Every time Mom walks into the kitchen, he's begging her to let him help. One day she complies, and finds herself with a captive audience who gives dish washing lessons his full attention, then wants to wield the feather duster and broom, too!

Sure, 11-year-old Johnny may be more capable of washing dishes, but which child will internalize and retain the lesson more willingly? Thus, letting preschool Johnny learn What He Most Wanted To Learn Right Now is a prime example of using the "teachable moment." (Of course, this does not guarantee he will never roll his eyes or groan when asked to do the dishes at age 1l, just that he will be an expert at getting them done quick because he learned HOW during a willing moment.)

This same approach can be used in the homeschool setting in place of, or in addition to, calendar agendas to determine what to teach. Part 2 of this series will show how to apply teachable moments to the classroom.

Until then remember---in a homeschooling family, class is never dismissed! Keep on learning...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Your Curriculum is WHAT?

Bri with her dad, taking part in our carefully constructed music program...on Christmas Day.

The subect of curriculum came up on one of my homeschooler discussion groups, and it inspired me to post. Anyone who has homeschooled a child has come across, shall I say, "public opinion" on the matter. Mention the "H" word and see raised brows, dropped jaws, perhaps a narrowed gaze of suspicion. Then come the comments. "How?" "That must be so hard!" "Is that even legal?" And for those a step ahead, "But where do you get your curriculum?"

While all homeschoolers have faced this battery of skeptical inquisition, those who teach a "reputable" curriculum with a distinguished-sounding name can at least provide a fast and ready answer to the naysayers. Now imagine those wary expressions when a family like ours says, "Oh, we don't use a curriculum. We're UNschooling."

What?? NO curriculum? The stunned faces practically ooze thoughts of what unintelligent, illogical, and downright irresponsible parents we must be to leave our child's education--their future--to fate! Don't we CARE that our child will grow up to be illiterate?

But we are none of these things, least of all uncaring. We care so much that we've carefully contstructed our child's education around her unique personality, learning style, and needs--an utterly one of a kind curriculum designed exactly to fit HER. No cookie cutter, one-size-fits-some path was going to be the best route for Bri, so we're clearing a path of our own.

Our school runs year round, 365 days a year, from waking until bed (and probably beyond). We never stop teaching or learning, one from the other, though we don't spend hours sitting around designing clever worksheets or making up math drills. Our classroom is the world, our curriculum is LIFE. Talking, singing, playing, cooking, gardening, reading...everything we do imparts knowledge taught in a classroom--and many things that aren't. Our "curriculum" is distinctly short on worksheets and flash cards, and we use no textbooks. Scandalous, I know!

Our curriculum includes:

1. Our museum membership. I have one of the few 5-year-olds I know of who will beg to visit the museum on a sunny Saturday morning.

2. Faithful visits to the local library. This not only involves a selection of books--which are entirely of Bri's choosing, and sometimes includes "educational" volumes about animals, the environment, or science--but also a necessary visit with a giant rock outside, running through the trees, and a trip to the fountain beside the adjacent Lincoln Memorial Shrine.

3. Supermarket Math. Much of our math "drills" involve numbers in their native habitats, including base concepts like "we need three apples and I'm holding one. How many more?" as well as more complex thoughts like "from this aisle, which item is closer, eggs or cereal?" and "which is the better buy?" At age 5 Bri has yet to read numbers, but she can tell you at the library that if I'm holding three books, she needs three more to make six.

4. Science at play. Scientific principles can be taught by making ice cream or noodles, or while visiting a park playground. My pre-reader can already explain the differences between the different states of matter (liquid, solid, gas).

5. Artist in residence. One of our regrets about public education is the lack of fine arts programs. Yet Bri gets to apprentice constantly in an environment where an artist, actor, singer, sculptor, director, and author resides.

6. Computer science by way of her desktop computer, which she has set up to be independent in use despite pre-reading and writing.

7. Spontaneous writing. After abandonding writing drills long prior to beginning our kindergarten unschooling adventure, Bri spontaneously developed an interest after hearing how artists label their work. Most all her art is now "signed" with her first name, and while her B looks more like an O or an 8 at present she's almost taught herself to write her name--with help whenever she wants.

Our approach? For the most part, we allow life's natural circumstances and current topics of interest generate learning situations. This has worked better for Brianna than anything tried thus far. When she's gun-ho, we go for it. When she pulls back, we move onto something else.

Take reading. Since birth there have been bedtime stories, library times, and made up tales. When she was of an age I felt required me to "teach" her the alphabet, I tried flash cards, fridge magnets, educational television, alphabet soup, manipulatives, an ABC's placemat, and learning DVD's. Nothing worked. Then I learned about unschooling, and dropped alphabet fairly altogether in favor of more vitally NOW concepts of interest. Then a few weeks ago, we ran across learning posters at the dollar store. Bri was THRILLED. We posted them and offered her a sticker for each letter she learned to read. Two weeks after starting this, she's mastered 11 letters.

Bri can tell you why rest is important during illness and describe the role of white blood cells, courtesy of a cold that struck over the holidays. She knows the parts of a plant and their growth requirements, courtesy of our deck garden. And she knows a great deal about bees, after their visits to us in the pool all summer sparked an interest in a bee unit study. She has awareness of environmental concerns, and why we must care for the earth by recycling and turning off lights. She learns constantly, and is never tired of the process.

So now, when people ask that loaded, "But what curriculum?" question, we have an answer. "We use a comprehensively designed, one of a kind, dynamic multileveled learning program that is custom created for Bri's constantly changing learning needs." Most people won't have a clue what any of that means, but the above is given with enough gusto and long words to show that we are not unintelligent, uncaring parents. Those clever enough to decipher the above code...well, those are generally folks who are easily sold on the idea of creative, alternative education.

Class dismissed. ;)