Tag Archives: Homeschool

Why the idea of curriculum is absurd

Okay, that is a deliberately provocative title.

The thing about curriculum (particularly in schools), and even more so standardized tests, is that some one has arbitrarily chosen the content in or on them and said that, in our vast sea of knowledge out there, this is all you need to know or be interested in. Rarely do educators or students ask, who decided this was important and why? And even more importantly, do I agree?

Parents and educators are often up in arms about how hard it is for children to discern what is good information and what is bad, what is useful and what is not They also work themselves up into a tizzy over the amounts of information that are at all of our fingertips in the form of the Internet. The solution, curriculum and standardized testing. In worrying over the information ocean and overload, they decide not to give them the skills to navigate that sea or evaluate it or even how to be efficient. Instead curriculums tell the children what they need to know so they never have to dip their toes in those information waters.

But this sets kids up in a Catch-22. They are told what to learn, are given an arbitrary set of information (that often is not particularly useful nor relevant to them or their interests), and then are berated for not knowing how to go out and find and evaluate other information when they discover how useless and miniscule their “well-rounded” education has been.

This for me is a large part of why I want to unschool. Instead of dedicating money and hours and hours of my child’s life to a set of information that someone else had deemed interesting and important I would infinitely prefer to give my daughter the skills to create that set of information for herself. Her time will be infinitely better served in doing that. Plus, in having those skills, instead of a collection of facts, she will know how to learn on her own and follow her interests.

The thing is, children will learn to read, will learn basic arithmetic and science through their own natural curiosity and through their need for those skills.* Saying I want Cam to form her own curriculum does not preclude my stepping in to help her learn skills or explicitly teaching them to her. I just need to tread lightly and at the right time. Many of the skills we hyper obsess over in school, in curriculums, and on tests are not the end goal. Reading is a skill to be put into service of learning, not the other way around. And for that reason children will be motivated to learn to read.

So, using a one-size-fits-all arbitrarily curated curriculum doesn’t serve the majority of children well and I would like to opt out of that for my children. 

*I am well aware that there are children who will not come to those skills easily or at all because of learning disabilities and I know how important early diagnosis is for those children. I also know that the reason for curriculum and forcing skills on kids is NOT to ensure that kids with learning disabilities get the help they need as early as possible. Learning disabilities in schools is a whole other thorny issue that is often not addressed correctly or appropriately.

Unschool Update: I Walk the Line

Money MaterialsFor anyone that knows about unschooling or practices it with their children, they are probably also aware of how different it is from the traditional model of schooling. I know for me, the traditional model of school (think desks in rows or pods, teacher at the front, set curriculum, benchmarks, etc.) is both what I went through for my education and was also the setting I taught in when I was in the classroom. Unschooling is much freer, following the child’s interests, introducing skills when they are useful to the child, and trusting the child to know what they need when they need it. I’ll be the first to admit it’s been incredibly difficult to break away from that traditional style of instruction when working with Cam over the past school year. 

It’s a fine line to walk, at least in our home, between offering Object Boxesdirect skills instruction to Cam while also following her lead. This year has been the year she has been both ready and willing to start the process of learning to read. I know from experience that she’s a decoder by nature. Basically she relies on phonics to read. She breaks words up into phonemes and is very focused on letter sounds and combinations. This makes for a slow progress and also does require some hands-on and planned instruction by me. It will ultimately make her a stronger reader over the next few years as grows into more and more complex books, but in the meantime it could really feel like we had veered off into a more traditional model of schooling. That was really a sign to me to back off. Reassess. Check in with Cam and stop anything that wasn’t working for her. Did I manage unschooling perfectly this year? Absolutely not. I’m unlearning how I was taught and also trying to find the best way to use the knowledge I have to help Cam master skills and learn things that she wants. But it wasn’t a complete failure either. 

Hundreds BoardSome other things we worked on or studied this year, prompted by Cam’s expressed interest, were taking nature classes at our local nature center, learning about pregnancy and birth as she watched my belly grow and then saw the birth of her sister, and a little bit of numeracy (counting up to 100 and learning about money). 

This year also saw the addition of Cam’s sister. That basically tanked the last couple months, which was fine. A new baby and being a big sister is a learning experience in and of itself. Cam has grown incredibly over the past three months and I couldn’t be more proud of that emotional and developmental growth. It’s far more important than any academic skill she might work on or any subject she might study. 

Pregnancy MaterialsThis coming year I want to work in some social-emotional learning and mindfulness practices to our daily schedule. I know, though, that this is going to be another area where she needs the skills (we’re working on taming anxiety in her that has reared its head), but I don’t want to push too far or become the driving force behind offering them to her. I am new to these practices too, so maybe that will mitigate some of that. I can frame it as we’re learning together and instead of planning ahead we can plan together. That’s the line I’ll try to walk next year. 

Van Life: New Adventures

Van Life Banner

So, about two weeks before the end of 2017 we bought a Eurovan. Our big plan, that we’ve been talking about for nearly a year now, is to take off all of July and head up California, Oregon, Washington and into Canada with the two kids, the two of us, and the two dogs. Ultimately we’d love to do this every year and get out to explore the U.S., Canada, and maybe ultimately Mexico (although we’re hoping to head north to cooler climates when it’s blazing hot down south). I’m not sure we’d ever be the family that sells our house and lives full time in our van while traveling, but a change of pace for one month a year sounds about right for now.

We took our first trip on the last two days of the year and headed down to Yosemite. It was my first time in the Park and it was really lovely, if a wee bit chilly. Also, camping while seven months pregnant was little challenging. I wish our campsite had been closer to the bathroom. We plan on taking a lot of overnight and weekend trips in the van as well since there’s plenty to see within a few hours of where we live. And because my husband runs on a school schedule he gets dedicated winter and spring breaks plus a handful of three day weekends that will allow us to go out on longer trips.

I am really new to the whole camping thing (I did go to summer camp a few times, but it was all tent cabins and mess halls, no tents or camp stoves or even really campfires) so I am learning as we go along. In fact the last, and maybe only time, I went camping was nearly 30 years ago. I would like to post about van life, camping with kids, and traveling/camping with dogs. Tips, tricks, thoughts, etc in case anyone else wants ideas or inspiration. If you’ve done the math, our July trip will involve a three month old baby. It could be the world’s best idea of the world’s worst idea. We’ll find out. I think we’re going into this with an open mind and a sense of adventure that will hopefully allow us to take everything in stride.

Parenting for Social Justice: Stories We Aren’t Waiting On

Parenting for Socal Justice Banner

Or How I’m Not Allowing White Privilege to Shield My Daughter

In my last post I talked about how powerful stories can be (in books and movies) and how I feel strongly that there are some I want my daughter to be exposed to when she is ready. A big part of my point about not encouraging my daughter to watch Jurassic Park at six years old is that it’s a story that tackles some incredibly deep questions about humanity and our role in life. Today I wanted to address the idea that there are difficult ideas that I am not holding back on with her and how I determine, rightly or wrongly, which ones those will be. 

The short answer to what hard topics and questions do I choose discuss openly with her is, if someone’s safety and/or humanity is impacted by the answers to those questions right now in the real world, then it is imperative we talk about it. This includes things like overt racism, systemic racism and sexism, police violence, Islamophobia, violence against trans and queer people. I have opened conversations about all of these topics with her. 

We talk about stories about how people have been and continue to be excluded, persecuted, and discriminated against. We talk openly about skin color, race, gender, sex, religion, disability, body type, immigration, and socio-economic status. None of these things are shameful. They are part of people’s identities and unless my daughter can talk about them without shame or without hatred or a feeling of superiority (i.e. white supremacy) then she can’t fight for equity. We read stories about current events and historical events. We have talked about people crossing the Mediterranean and the desperation that must drive them to take such risks. We have talked about rape and rape culture and the #metoo movement. We have talked about redlining. We have talked about slavery and Jim Crow laws and segregation here in California, which impacted Latinx people. Of course these topics are tackled in an age appropriate way, but we don’t shy away from them and I give her honest answers to any and all questions she asks, even if the answers are hard and scary. She knows about Stephon Clark who was killed here in Sacramento a few months ago and she knows about the Black Lives Matter movement. We often first approach these stories through stories. Through picture books that bring up the topics and give us an opening to think and discuss more deeply and I think that is a very powerful and impactful approach to getting at real world problems. 

I know many white parents want to avoid talking about these things. They’re uncomfortable and awkward and difficult and we’re afraid of making mistakes. But that’s our privilege allowing us to not to talk about them and I don’t want to be party to that. That doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes and know all the answers to the tough questions we come up with, but I am trying. 

Learning to Read

We’re all very excited around here because Cam is learning to read. She really started to show some interest a few months ago when she began memorizing the names of the letters and identifying them when she saw them. 

This is most exciting for me because I have plenty of experience with abilities later in the process. All my years working in lower school, and particularly in second grade, I have seen fluency really come together and skills strengthen. But I haven’t seen the start of the process and quite frankly it’s amazing. 

Some resources 

I’ve been looking for resources to help support her and here are some things I’ve discovered. I tend not to like worksheets and things like that, but she’s motivated and interested so I’ve been using them.

First, she needs lots of practice working out the sounds each letter makes. I downloaded a bunch of printables that have her practice letter sounds both by themselves and as initial sounds. Scour Pinterest for these free resources. Here’s a link to a Pinterest search for some of those activities and printables.

Next, she needs to be able to identify the upper and lower case letter as the books she reads in have different cases and different fonts. I bought this game on Amazon that is a memory-style game. It’s nice and she likes Memory so I figured she would be willing to play. Also, here is a search on Pinterest for matching upper and lower case letter games

Then we needed some little books for her to read. Costco has a four or five BOB book collections for $11. I just bought all of them. Many of them are way above her ability right now. One set is called the Pre-Reader Collection and it goes through some skills readers need (like pattern recognition) and also all the letters of the alphabet with their sounds. I find the BOB books totally boring, but Cam likes them a lot. She is also able to read the first few in the first collection. Which brings me to my next point. 

Let’s talk about easy readers

There are a lot of really great easy readers out there. You know them. They have a smaller trim size than picture books, but are bigger than an actual chapter book. They’re kind of short and have large print with spaced out lines on each page. They’re books like Frog and Toad and Little Bear and Cat in the Hat. The thing is, even the easiest ones require a fair amount of skill and ability to read. The vast majority do not use simple short vowel patterns and CVC word patterns (consonant-vowel-consonant). Add to this the fact that a bunch of companies publish them and their reading levels are not consistent across brands. Kids learning to read do quickly put spelling patterns together in their minds and memorize sight words (words you know on sight without having to sound out or look more closely), but it takes some time and practice. They do eventually get to a place where they can really read those types of books, but where Cam is now she needs super basic readers. That’s where the BOB books seem to have the market cornered. 

Waiting until the time is right

So one thing I am trying very hard to balance is pushing her to practice and actually read with not killing the interest she has. I know the more she practices the better she’ll get and the easier it will become. But right now it’s hard and laborious and fatiguing. I’m glad I allowed her to pick the time she actually began to work through it. It’s coming quickly and she’s incredibly motivated. Hopefully she can sustain that interest while her skills catch up. 

A final thought. I know the concept of your child learning to read can be incredibly stressful (as is nearly everything with parenting). Will they ever learn? Will they want to? Will they struggle? What if it happens later than all the other kids? The thing about reading is that by fifth grade, it’s all a wash. With very, very, very few exceptions teachers in the upper grades do not know who read first, second or last. (Well, maybe last. There are children with learning disabilities that continue to struggle.) But those super star readers in kindergarten and first grade? They are not always on top and frequently become totally indistinguishable from their peers. Repeat after me: it all becomes a wash. What does that mean for you right now, with a young child? Enjoy them as they are. They will get there. They do all learn to read. It’s an amazing thing to watch as this whole new word opens up to your child (remember how the world opened up when they learned to talk and to walk? it’s like that all over again, but with a more cognizant person). Enjoy that and don’t worry so much. 

Science Weekly: Yeast Experiment

I was recently making soft pretzels at home and realized I have a huge tub of yeast. Since the dough was rising while Cam was asleep I thought she might get a kick out of experimenting with the yeast by itself.

Our question was, what are the best conditions to get yeast to activate? I set out a number of bowls and put yeast in each of them. I also set out some salt and some sugar. Cam added salt and sugar and nothing to the yeast in the bowls. Then we poured in hot, cold and warm water. Technically you don’t need to have sugar in the water, but without adding anything else the yeast never activated. 

It took a good five to ten minutes to really start seeing results, but once it got going, it got going. She had lots of questions about what was going on and wanted to start mixing sugar, salt, and yeast to the bowls and doing a little experimenting of her own. She realized the more sugar you add, the quicker you see results and the more foam you get. 

I think the most interesting take away from this was an interest in our own digestive system. Cam asked where the gas from the bubbles was coming from and I explained that the yeast was eating the sugar and producing gas. That was funny to her because it’s basically a fart. :) But it lead to A LOT of questions about how our bodies work to process food. I explained a little and then got out our Eye Wonder Human Body book to read more. 

Science Weekly: Making Crystals

I kind of fell apart this summer on Summer of Science. Oh well. I’m picking up the thread and instead of trying to do one thing a day I’m going for one thing a week. Last week (as this series will run a week behind) we did a little experiment with making crystals. If you follow me on Instagram you will recognize the pictures and the activity. The series here on the blog is intended to document what we’ve done and make it possible for you to recreate it at home. 

Why I chose this project: Cam found her rocks and crystals and has been playing with them. We started talking about minerals and rocks and reading up about them a bit. I thought she might be interested to see how crystals form. 

img_3553 img_3555 img_3582

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What we did:

The set up was pretty simple. String tied to a stick and dangled in a jar. I mixed equal parts hot water and three different substances: table salt, sugar, and Borax. I had Cam help mix up the solutions and then dip the strings into the jars.

We left them out for a week and she would check them periodically throughout the day, every day. The top right picture shows the Borax crystals after about 30 minutes. The picture on the bottom shows them after a week. The sugar solution only developed mold, no crystals. I think next time I would go for another type of salt, kosher or sea, instead. Either that or made the sugar solution more concentrated. 

I had Cam draw pictures of the results in a journal and dictate comments to me about what had happened. She enjoyed that part of the experiment too. Next up is talking about how this relates to actual rock and crystal formation.

Summer of Science

100dayspledgeI recently came across this project called The 100 Day Project. It encourages you to do one thing for 100 days, with an emphasis on making or doing something. The project technically started back in April, but I just don’t have time to do this kind of thing every day during the school year and I feel like I had my plate full this spring. So instead I decided to start late (which they still encourage you to do) and use it to frame my summer. For this blog I will be doing #100daysofscience with Cam. It will be 100 days of a simple, easy, and fun science exploration each day. 

I have the first week planned out and I think I will try and center weeks around a theme or concept that way it doesn’t feel like a bunch of disjointed projects. It might also allow us to hit on something Cam is interested in and explore more deeply. 

I will be posting (hopefully!) a picture each day on Instagram. I kind of hate taking pictures daily and I also don’t really like having yet another social media platform to check in on, so we’ll see if I can manage. You can see my latest in the widget in the sidebar over there. ———> I haven’t quite decided how to balance Instagram and the blog, but I’m thinking of writing a weekly round-up post where I share the pictures and a brief explanation of what the experiment was (and how successful and popular it was) so anyone interested can recreate it. 

In addition to these posts I am going to try and have a Friday Five book post each week this summer. While I enjoy sharing about our urban farm, our parenting successes and failures, and food, I am most passionate about books and I want that to come through here more. I haven’t been all that enthused about blogging lately (see my previous comment about a full plate this spring), and I want to find that passion again, because I do love it when I do it. 

One last note, I am also going to be doing this with my library/book review blog so if you’re following me on Instagram you’ll be seeing those photos coming through too. That one will be #100daysofdiversebooks. Quite frankly you may wish to see those too. Many of them (most) will be picture books that I test out on Cam and am looking at with an eye toward adding them to my library’s collection so they’ll be relevant here as well. 

Here’s to one more week in school and summer on it’s way!

Letters!

A few weeks ago, maybe even a month ago now, Cam suddenly took an interest in letters- learning their names, their sounds and writing them. She was carefully watching me one evening as I filled in a crossword puzzle in a puzzle magazine I had just bought. I can’t remember the exact question she asked, but I responded that one day when she learned her letters she would be able to do puzzles like mine. She went back to whatever it was she was doing. She must have been chewing that over in her mind because a few minutes later she got out some index cards and a pencil (or grabbed them off the table, I can’t remember) and started to write what looked like capital “e”s. After a few attempts she turned to me and asked if I would help her write letters. 

From there I began showing her a picture of the letter and how to form it and she would then copy the letter onto the page. She’s been a letter and word fiend ever since, asking to write names and words. While I think this is great practice I also thought she might benefit from being able to form words less laboriously (it takes a lot for her to write any given letter since she has to really think about how it’s formed and what it looks like, not to mention keeping the letters all about the same size and in a line).

IMG_2992I pulled out a cookie sheet I had bought at Wal-Mart several years ago for just this purpose. I also got out our magnetic letters which until this point she hasn’t been overly interested in. Now she tells me words she wants to spell and I tell her the letters in order. She finds them in the bin and arranges them on the tray. I ended up having to buy more letters because the set we had didn’t have nearly enough letters for her to keep a few words on the tray while spelling more. 

I also have some letter cards that have the upper case letter nice and big on the back. They are awesome for showing her what each letter looks like. On the back there is a labeled picture for each letter and both the upper and lower case letter. Thankfully they have appropriate pictures for the letter sounds (I HATE it when alphabets have, say, a giraffe for the “g” since that really reinforces the “j” sound not the hard “g” sound which is too much information for a child just learning the letters). I only wish these cards didn’t have the picture label spelled out in lower case. 

I did make a conscious choice to do only capital or upper case letters. They have a lot more straight lines and it seemed a little easier for her to form. Plus I didn’t want to quash her enthusiasm by making it more a of school lesson than something driven by her own interests. Requiring her to learn both upper and lower case letters was probably going to derail her. 

It took about two weeks, but she has learned to correctly identify each of the letters and say the sound they make. Plus she’s applying those skills to writing words. In another few weeks I suspect she will be sounding out words. Which of course will eventually lead to her reading and that’s pretty exciting for her!

Cool Stuff: Vol. 2 Issue 2

A few good articles to share this time:

From The Mindshift blog from KQED, an article looking at how unschoolers turn out once they hit college/adult life. It’s a small study, but the results are interesting. There’s a mix of outcomes, but overwhelmingly positive. How Do Unschoolers Turn Out? Certainly worth a read if you are thinking about unschooling or are curious.

I really love how this blog post shows how to use books in the early phases of provocations and projects. They pique interest, spark ideas, and introduce topics. The children in this classroom didn’t gravitate toward the bird watching provocation (binoculars and guide book by the window) until reading a book about birds. Of course, as a librarian and bibliophile, I love this and it’s certainly a default for me to turn to books. I’m glad to get a little validation seeing others do this too. Becoming a Birder on Searching for Sparks blog. 

I know I link a lot to Racheous, but I often love what she has to say. Here’s a great post about unschooling and how it means not worrying about ensuring kids learn specific facts. It’s Not All About Learning. As she puts it:

“I don’t care if my child doesn’t learn about certain arbitrary facts associated with a life cycle we’re observing or specific elements of numeracy we’re exploring through play. That specific, testable knowledge is no longer the endgame. It happens regardless – but it’s no longer the top desired outcome.”

It’s not that she doesn’t want her kids to learn information, it’s simply that any given information and the emphasis on it’s necessity to learn it is totally arbitrary. The endgame of education is to learn how to learn and enjoy it.