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.

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. ;)