Tag Archives: Homeschool

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. 

Activity in the Hive: Here Is the Beehive…12345

While Cam has shown some interest in letters, she is really drawn to numbers. She learned them very quickly (both identification and counting to ten) without any prompting from me. Personally I prefer the laid-back approach to “teaching” this stuff and came up with a few passive ways to help Cam explore numbers more. 

Inspiration

Reggio-Inspired Math Table from Wildflower Ramblings

Playful Numeracy: Making Math Visual and Hands On from Racheous

Numeracy Resource Learning Area from Walker Learning Approach on Facebook

Waldorf Gnomes- Mathematics from The 5 of Us

Reggio-Inspired Preschool Math Tray from And Next Comes L

Books

We have a huge bin of counting books in our classroom. A lot of the titles we’ve found used, but there are some we’ve bought too. Using books to passively teach numbers is a great strategy, especially if your child really clicks with one title and you read it over and over and over and…

  Animal 123Animal 123 by Britta Teckentrup

This has been one of Cam’s favorite books since she was less than a year. Teckentrup’s illustrations are simple, beautiful, and really engaging for young children with bright colors and clean lines and plenty of contrast. The pages fold open to reveal the next number and one more of what is being counted. We have a couple tears from less-than-gentle baby hands, but it’s a great teachable moment when that happens. Not only does the book teach the counting 1-10, but it’s a subtle introduction to the concept of adding. 

My First Learning Groovers123: My First Learning Groovers 

We came across this book at Costco. It has the numbers 1-20 and each number has grooved numerals that the child can run their finger along. I usually read this one with Cam so I can be sure she is tracing the numbers in the correct way so as not to establish any bad habits. This is a similar idea to the Montessori tactile numbers and if you can’t find this book you could look for Montessori: Number Work by Bobby and June George.

We All CountWe All Count: A Book of Cree Numbers by Julie Flett

We have tons of these counting 1-10 books in our number books bin, but I adore this recent purchase. Part of the appeal is it’s diverse: it’s bilingual with a Native American language (Cree) and the people pictured inside are not the default white. But it’s all about the illustrations here. The cover has a big flock of burrowing owls, one of Cam’s favorite species, that are just darling. The illustrations are clean and modern looking too which I think makes actually counting the objects easier. It’s also a board book which makes it sturdy.

 Ten Nine EightTen, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang

An oldie, but a goodie. This was one of my favorites when I was a little girl and now it’s one of Cam’s favorites which makes me happy. Ten, Nine, Eight makes for a great bedtime story, but what I appreciate about it now is that it counts backwards. Not only does this show children that numbers work in reverse (and demonstrates minus one) it also helps them break out of the order of 1, 2, 3. Essentially it plays with numbers. The illustrations are really charming and cozy. It also makes you look around your own room for things to count. Math is everywhere. The book is available in board book format and paperback (you can often find it in thrift shops and used book stores) and is translated into Spanish. 

 

Media

Montessorium: Intro to Math

This is an app for the iPad. It does a lot of the traditional Montessori math lessons like the red and blue rods and counters, but in a digital format. It isn’t very expensive (considerable less than buying all the physical materials) and is very engaging. It’s clean, beautiful, and works well. Cam likes to play it although a few of the activities are too hard without one of us helping her (which is really how kids should be using apps). 

Poems

Poems and rhymes are great ways to teach young children. Their rhyme schemes and sing-song quality make them very memorable. Cam has amazed me on more than one occasion by reciting a poem or song I’ve recited without prompting. 

1, 2, Buckle My Shoe I was only familiar with the 1-10 part of this rhyme, but it goes up to twenty. Sometimes I feel like we spend so much time working on counting to 10 that counting higher, as Cam wants to do, gets left out. 

Here Is the Beehive This is a counting down rhyme and is a finger play. The link is a great resource from BBC which includes the full lyrics and a little video. The lyrics may come up hidden, just click the arrow to open the box to see them. 

Activities

Kid-O 0 to 9 Magnatab: I thought this looked cool, but wasn’t quite sure if Cam would agree. Turns out she absolutely loves it. We brought it to restaurants, she left it out on the coffee table to play with all the time, and she’s still playing with it a month after its delivery by St. Nicholas. It essentially teaches kids how to write the numbers (there is also an alphabet magnatab in both print and cursive). You’ll need to do some front loading first by showing them and monitoring them writing the letters, but once I was confident Cam was forming them mostly correctly I let her play with it by herself. Also be careful about forming bad pencil grip habits, from a teacher’s perspective those habits are SO hard to break. The tablet features a control of error (for all you Montessorians out there). If they haven’t done a careful enough job not all the little magnets will have popped up. Just a little warning, those magnets popping up into their holes make noise. I am noise averse and it doesn’t really bother me, but be aware. 

Montessori Teens Board: Cam is really into counting above ten now. I know I sound like a pushy mom saying that, but it was all her. I decided to help her visualize these numbers better (and maybe build a bit of place value understanding as we go) and make her a Montessori tens/teens board for 10-14. I’ll make a 15-19 later when she’s more confident going that high. A teens board is essentially a row of 10s stacked on top of each other with tracks to slide in a 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. into the ones place and covering the 0 to make 10 into 11, 12, 13, etc. The actual material is pretty expensive for what it is so I decided to make one. Here’s a round up of DIY Teens Boards on Living Montessori Now. I made one similar to the La Paz Home Learning one and it cost me less than $8. It was also pretty simple to make (an hour max). But you can make it more or less fancy depending on your level of handiness, your budget, and the time you want to dedicate to it. 

Magnetic Numbers: Exactly what these sound like. They’re the number counterparts to the traditional magnetic numbers everyone has seen on fridges. It’s a super passive way to play with numbers and simply get a sense of what they look like. I bought a bin with letters (lower and upper case) and numbers for fairly inexpensive. The ones we have are these, but they don’t seem to have the set like we bought with all the letters and numbers. Go figure. This company also makes their letters color coded in red and blue like Montessori materials so it may be a good substitute for the moveable alphabet if you need something a bit cheaper. I’m very happy with the quality of them.

Red and Blue Rods with Numerals: I used the red and blue rods I made (1-9 because the box was too small to fit the 10 and because 10 takes two numerals to make) and paired them with a bowl of blue magnetic numbers to match with the rods. Cam still has to count each rod so she tires out before we’re totally done with this activity. I also have to sit with her when she does it, but that’s fine with me. She enjoys doing it and counting together. 

Cool Stuff: Vol. 1, Issue 8

- I came across this interesting piece about the Go the F*ck to Sleep book (and apparently its companion). Like the author of this post, I too found the book a little bit funny the first time through because, as parents, we’ve almost all had those moments. But I agree that the fact that the book became a best seller and warranted another book, belies a disturbing cultural trend that belittles kids and gives people permission to see them as less than people and their wants and desires as unimportant and subordinate to their parents’ wants and desires. 

Here’s a snippet. It’s a short piece I recommend it. 

But the worst thing about this book isn’t how unfunny it is. The worst thing is how mean-spirited it is. Again, the first book, on first read, was worth a cathartic laugh, tapping into the awful things parents sometimes think but dare not say. But doing a second book legitimizes those awful things and says, yes, this deserves a place in our culture’s comic vocabulary. Because it’s fun to swear at kids!

Trigger warning: the f-word is used many times both in the context of the title of the book it is talking about and as a humor device. 

– On a happier note, I was so pleased to read this post on Mummy Musings and Mayhem. Jode talks about how she is waiting the extra year to send her daughters to kindergarten, giving them the gift of time. She articulates everything I feel about it and it is so refreshing and validating to hear another parent say they are more interested in their child’s well-being than pushing academic achievement too early and/or in making themselves look good with their child’s academic achievement (a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses like competition I see parents engaging in with their kids as pawns in that). 

Because of Cam’s late August birthday we are in a school gray area. She is technically old enough to go to Pre-K in the fall of 2015, but she will be very, very young and, I think, immature. At this point we actually haven’t decided what to do. We can do two years of Pre-K, but that would be expensive. We could wait, and that’s a possibility. Or, and this seems the most likely route, we put her in in fall do a year of Pre-K and then pull her out to homeschool at which point her age doesn’t really matter. 

– I know this is posting the day after Thanksgiving, but I think it’s fine to talk about being grateful and thankful during the whole holiday season. Here’s a book suggestion and review of a book that shows what people around the world eat. It really puts things into perspective. If I’m not mistaken there are other books by this author-photographer pair about food. There is also a book by the same photographer that shows people around the world with all their belongings (or most of them) outside their homes with the family surrounding them. That is incredibly eye-opening. Look for these at your public library as they are hefty hardbacks. Good for bringing the holiday season back to Earth a little bit and helping children really see that they have more than enough.

Cool Stuff Vol.1, Issue 7

I came across this post on Happiness Is HereWhat If They Ask to Go to School? I really agree with what she says and how she turns the question around from what if they ask to go to school to what if they ask to be homeschooled? I have yet to be asked any really obnoxious questions about homeschooling when I’ve said I want to homeschool Cam (actually I’ve gotten a lot of really positive responses) but I know these arguments are out there and it’s only time before I encounter them.

I came across this video, The Mobile: A Reggio-Inspired Kindergarten Project through An Everyday Story. It’s an amazing 20 minutes that explores how a kindergarten class designed and built a mobile to hand in their school entry way. The production isn’t especially good (the music is all over the place and I found the kids reading quotes to be superflous and often distracting) but the content is awesome. It’s amazing to see these kids observe the space, suggest and collect materials, and design and create pieces. It’s worth the time to watch it. 

Here’s a great blog post about how student creativity can’t be turned on and off at the whim of a teacher. I think this is part of why I love Reggio. It infuses creativity into every aspect and there is no need to worry about turning it on when it’s time to have your weekly hour of creative thought. There are also some great ideas for helping kids be creative, particularly in classrooms, but I think the advice is applicable in home classrooms and in general.  

Activity in the Hive: Planning and Documentation Experiment

At the start of October I decided I really needed to come up with a planning process that involved breaking up new provocations and aligning them with a broader plan.

Ever since I read about the Intended Projects document in Working in the Reggio Way (I discuss it a bit here) I have been trying to create my own. This document is an incredibly broad document and defines the overarching themes or concepts you’ll cover in a given period of time. Because it’s such a detailed and long document I really just needed the time to sit down, think through, and then put my thoughts together on paper (so to speak). I recently made the time to do this and to come up with some other pieces of the planning process.

Part of my intention was also to encourage myself to begin documenting Cam’s thinking and learning. This is one of the aspects I really love about the Reggio approach and I think it’s one of the more powerful pieces too because it requires a lot of reflection and listening to the child(ren) on the part of the educator.  

What I have now is essentially a series of documentations that form a beginning, middle, and end. Technically there is no end, but the final document can certainly come at a natural stopping or breaking point and must come after the project has had some time to develop and begin winding down.

My new planning process includes:

  • Intended Projects: This is a document meant to cover the planning for a season or even be a biannual document.  It lays out the broad themes and concepts I want to cover and names and generally plans provocations that will go with those themes.

I identified four core areas I want topics or themes to fall into (Language Arts, Numeracy, Art, and Nature) and then I picked what I wanted the broad topics to be (right now I have Building Letter Awareness as the Language Arts topic). Of course there is tons of overlap and I make note of that. I also have a written statement at the top that addresses both the question “what do I seek to make evident?” and discusses how these topics tie in with Cam’s expressed interests.

There are different types of projects identified within the document too: Umbrella Projects (which are those four core areas), Environmental Projects (these are projects that come out of any of the play areas we have set up in the house), Daily Life Projects (these are projects that come out of her wonderings and musings that happen in the natural course of daily life), and Self-Managed Projects (these I don’t expect to see until Cam is quite a bit older and more independent). Provocations can fall into several types of projects.

Under the general project planning I have a provocation strategies section that contains places to record questions (from me or Cam), materials, scaffolding (any prior knowledge she’ll need or provocations or activities that need to be planned or need to come first), books, and provocations (these are the actual set ups I want to put out). 

I should also note that this is not a static document. I add to it and build on it as I go along. It’s not intended to be perfect or comprehensive the first time around.

  • Provocation (Monthly) Planning: In my Intended Projects I name the provocations I want to set up. In my monthly planning I assigned a week of each month to one of the core areas/umbrella projects. On Mondays I set up the one or two provocations that go along with it (many of the provocations build on each other so there is an order to them). That means each provocation stays out for at least a month and it breaks the set-up process into much more manageable chunks. 
  • Provocation Documentation: This is a final document that will come toward the end of a provocation. It will record a statement about why I did the provocation (what questions Cam had that led there or interest that she showed), notes about context and objectives, materials available, a narrative, what was learned, and follow up ideas. I will also include pictures here. I have yet to finish one of these as we are still in the throes of the our current project How Clothes Are Made. I am hoping this will be a good place to harvest pictures and information to create documentation panels. 

I know all this sounds super formalized and school-y, but it’s all based on what Cam has expressed interest in. I chose Building Letter Awareness because Cam is frequently pointing to scribbles she makes and telling me what word she has written. I think she’s ready to start identifying letters and learning how to turn those scribbles into real letters. I am really interested in keeping a good record of what she is thinking and how she is approaching learning too, so I want to have good documentation of all that. And I am prone to getting lazy about setting things up for her (I’m procrastinating setting up some painting as I type) but if I’m hyper organized and front-load in the planning stage it’s easy for me to follow through. I guess you could say this (should) keep me honest. 

So, that’s what I’ve been up to lately. Keep in mind that I am crazy organized and a total neat freak (always have been) so this may be way beyond what any normal parent wants to do. Any one else do planning like this? How do you approach planning?

Cool Stuff Vol. 1, Issue 1

“Cool Stuff” is a new series I’m starting. I should be doing it most weeks. The intent is to share anything and everything that we’ve found useful and interesting. When Cam asks me questions about the world around us or I note that she’s seen something she doesn’t quite understand, I try to find real life examples, books, pictures, videos, you name it, to help her understand. In the process of doing this I come across a lot of neat things that I thought it might be fun to share with parents and educators.

For the inaugural post of Cool Stuff I would like to share:

3 Rules to Spark Learning: Nothing here that the Reggio Emilia approach doesn’t do, but it bears repeating. However I think it hits home that you don’t have to commit fully to the Reggio approach to value and adhere to these principles. (6 minute video from TED Talks Education)

I’m Not Patient Enough to Homeschool: Just yes on this one. It really ties into my belief that toy and baby companies are trying to convince us that we don’t know what we’re doing so we need to buy their products. (Blog post from Kate at An Everyday Story, a fabulous homeschool & Reggio blog)

 

Working in the Reggio Way by Julianne Wurm

I’m kind of traditionalist when it comes to learning for myself. I want to read about the topic I’m curious about. Then I like to reflect and think about it and discuss it if possible, although the pool of people I can talk with about pedagogy, especially alternative pedagogy, is pretty small.

Reggio Reading ListWhen I first began reading about the Reggio Emilia approach to education I picked up Authentic Childhood (see my discussion of it here). I can’t really remember why I chose this particular text, but if I had to guess it was recommended somewhere and it was available to me. Next I read Project-Based Homeschooling. This one came up on several “Reggio must read” lists and was available from my public library. Finally this past week, I finished my first read through Working in the Reggio Way.

In retrospect, not only were these good books to use as an introduction to the Reggio approach, but the order I read them in was also really useful and appropriate. Authentic Childhood was an excellent introduction. It gave a good broad overview of the approach and its principles. It could be dense and theoretical at times, but personally I like the authority these kinds of texts have. I also think the way my mind works I prefer to have a solid understanding of the bigger picture of something like this before I jump into the details.

Project-Based Homeschooling (which I mention a bit here) did a really good job of bridging the gap between the theoretical and practical application. It was especially helpful to me for setting up our atelier and shaping my thinking about how Cam might approach using the materials. It also nudged me further from the Montessori ideas I was (and am, to some extent) still keeping on the back burner. It isn’t specifically Reggio, but you can see the underlying principles in it.

Working in the Reggio Way: A Beginner’s Guide for American Teachers is, obviously, specific to the Reggio approach. It has been wonderful for guiding my reflection, forcing me to take notes, and think deeply about everything from our space to documentation and observation. Although it’s called a guide, I think it acted more as a workbook, providing prompts and questions that will help you work toward using the Reggio principles. I have yet to decide how much of my notes from the book I want to share here. They’re so specific to us that I’m not sure they would be helpful to my readers, but when I’m done I may copy some over. I will note it is geared toward teachers, but I don’t think that mattered much. It was easy enough to understand everything in context of the home. In tandem Project-Based Homeschooling and Working in the Reggio Way will shape how you think of educating your child and will get you up and running.

Honestly, the order you read the last two titles in doesn’t matter much. I think Project-Based Homeschooling would be best if you want a quick start up guide to start with and then move on to the deeper reflection. If you have time and want to do the reflection first go with Working in the Reggio Way first.

I do still have a couple books in my Reggio to-read list. They include the classic tome The 100 Languages of Children and The Language of Art. When I get around to reading those I’ll be sure to either update here or, if they are worthwhile, I’ll write up a longer review.

Science Exploration

Science Exploration.jpg

Science is one of those topics that gets short shrift despite how ubiquitous it is. It permeates nearly everything from the muffins baked for breakfast to the stomach digesting them. From the materials our clothes are made of to the mechanics of us putting them on. The prevalence of science makes it one of the easiest topics to allow our children to explore and being that they are naturally curious about discovering how the world works it’s a great combination.

While Montessori encourages allowing the child to discover what it is they wish to study I feel like it would be the rare child that would explicitly ask for a book on magnets and a set of magnets to explore the concept. It would also be the rare child to ask for simple machines or any other number of interesting science concepts. To help Cam discover whether or not she is interested I have set up (and am rotating in) a number of science activities and sets to pique her interest. If she’s drawn to them I read to her from books and discuss the concepts more thoroughly.

Thus far magnets have been the biggest hit and she pulls in any visitor to show her magnets off. She was less interested in the rocks and minerals except as light table accessories. The light & color exploration have also been less popular, but I think it would be better if I actually sat down with her and explicitly demonstrated a few ideas she can try.