Tag Archives: Homeschool

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.

Color Study

Color Study.jpg

Color seems to be one of those concepts that you naturally find yourself introducing to your child. You ask, “What color is this?” and answer for them. Or you use the color to describe an object, “Do you see that red car”. It’s such a natural process and we have been doing it with Cam for ages now.

However, recently Cam has begun labeling colors on her own. She’s gotten to the point where she is quite fascinated with color and she appears to have a pretty solid understanding of ROY G BIV, accurately naming colors when asked and independently. To indulge her interest I set up a rainbow area in the classroom.

As you can see from the gallery below there are quite a few activities including: a peg board, nesting boxes, a few sets of paint chips to flip through, a set of stacking rings, a basket objects and mice of various colors, a basket of bean bags and of course several color themed books. So far she’s played with most of the items and read through the books, with the exception of the stacking rings which may just be a bit young for her at this point.

A Little Weekend Listening: Connections

Weekend Reading.jpg

We are very lucky to live where we do because our local public radio station has a classical music station. It doesn’t play classical 24 hours like it used to, but it’s pretty close which is fine with me. During the week the station plays music, but on the weekends they have several shows (centered around music) that air. A few are nationally syndicated, but two are locally produced.

Saturday at four is the show Connections which, if you are interested in classical music and music appreciation, is fabulous. The host chooses a theme and then finds pieces from medieval times through the present that are representative. We are not always home to listen to Connections, but they have begun putting up a podcast of it on their website. While all the episodes are worth listening to two weeks ago the theme was birds, a favorite topic in our house. Cam and I just listened to it on Wednesday and it features some excellent music including the incomparable “Lark Ascending” by Vaughn Williams.

I highly recommend giving the show a listen, especially if you are studying music, want to share music with your child, want to introduce them to classical music or want to teach them to listen carefully to music. Episodes are just under an hour long, but could in theory be broken up into several sittings. It’s one of those resources too that will teach you something as well as your child.

A sampling of shows:

The Avian Connection

The Spring Connection

The Irish Connection (in honor of St. Patrick’s Day)

 

A Little Weekend Reading: Infographic

Weekend Reading.jpg

I actually came across this infographic on one of my library blogs, but I thought it was very relevant for what I talk about here. It’s a bit text heavy and rather long, but so worth looking over. I understand how fortunate I am to be able to stay home with my daughter and I also understand it is not the best choice for everyone for many reasons. But it’s nice to have some validation that I am making a choice that will give my daughter a good foundation. As a side note, I am not necessarily endorsing the company this came from even though there is a link to their site at the bottom of the infographic.

The Importance of Childhood Education [infographic] – An Infographic from SchoolTutoring.com

Embedded from SchoolTutoring.com

Rigidity, Flexibility, and The Hundred Languages

Pedagogy BannerOne aspect of the Montessori Method that I am not overly fond of is its rigidity. If you are a purist, there are very specific activities and materials that are to be used in a very specific way, in a very specific sequence. If a child does not use the materials in the exact way demonstrated the teacher is to bring the activity to a close and shift to something else.

There are several reasons for this approach. Firstly, sensitive periods in brain development need to be fully taken advantage of and the materials are designed specifically with the needs and desires of these periods in mind. Secondly, children need and crave order. By insisting on the correct way to use materials or complete an activity and by imposing a cycle of setting the space, doing the activity, and cleaning up, you are satiating that desire and teaching order. Finally, specific skills need to be isolated and practiced, a requirement that was also taken into consideration when developing the materials and activities. By deviating from intended uses and proscribed sequences of activities a child’s full development and potential will be hindered. While I understand the reasoning, I don’t think it fits or sits well with my own educational philosophy for very young children.

Reggio-Emilia, on the other hand, has the Hundred Langauges of Children. This is a guiding principle based on the idea that children have many ways (a figurative one hundred) of exploring their environment and expressing what they have learned. This allows the Reggio-Emilia method to be very flexible in its application and use of activities and materials. It is up to the adult to provide the child with open-ended materials and activities and observe how the child uses these to express what they are interested in learning and how best to go about addressing their educational needs. Unfortunately, this is a bit too flexible for me.

Personally, I think there has to be a middle ground between these applications. I think it’s okay to have some activities that have a set outcome, product, or purpose. A puzzle for example encourages a number of skills and higher order thinking in a very particular way. But I also think it’s a good thing to have open ended activities, like pretend play, or to see where a child goes with an activity that they are not using “correctly”. Sometimes being flexible allows the student to express and learn things that the adult may not have seen or intended but are no less valuable and important. And I think both the Reggio-Emilia approach and the Montessori method would agree that allowing the child some intellectual wiggle room is a good thing.

Discovering Reggio Emilia: The Meta

Reggio Emilia.jpgDespite how much I love the idea of the Reggio Emilia approach and how inspiring I find it, there are a couple quirks. The thing is, it’s called the “Reggio Emilia approach” for a reason. Everything I have found about Reggio, so far, is very big picture and theoretical; an exercise in thinking. It’s so meta, as the hipsters would say. There is very little nitty-gritty, this-is-how-you-apply-the-ideas kind of talk. There are no practical applications to curriculum or activities. Usually the explanation is that what the program will look like depends on the students and teachers and families.

On the one hand that really frees your thinking of what teaching and learning can be and truly allows you to follow your child’s interests. But on the other hand, when it’s 3:00 in the afternoon on a Wednesday and you just need an activity, it’s just kind of frustrating. Skipping out on offering practical application, especially in education, just feels like a cop out to me. It makes it seem kind of half baked. Like they got too caught up in thinking about THE BIG PICTURE to bother coming up with some practical application ideas and places to start. And in some ways I see the Montessori Method as the practical application of the Reggio Emilia approach. I understand that isn’t exactly how it all fits together, but it certainly makes sense to me.

Another irritant for me is that Reggio experts claim that classrooms here in the U.S. (or anywhere other than Reggio Emilia) can only be “inspired” by the approach. Only schools in Reggio Emilia share the same culture (and presumably similar geographical coordinates) as the founders of the approach; only those schools are truly Reggio Emilia schools. This just doesn’t ring true for me. Since there is no actual curriculum, only BIG IDEAS, it’s all an approach to education, so of course it looks different in a different place. The thing is, it looks different in different schools even in Reggio Emilia, so why aren’t they “inspired” by the approach too? In the end that’s just an argument in semantics and has little bearing on any meaningful discussion of using the Reggio Emilia approach, but it just sounds so elitist to me.

Those two quirks aside, I think the underlying principles of the approach really tie in well with what I want for Cam in her education and the goals I laid out in my “manifesto”. And maybe in some ways I prefer not having a set of activities to cross off in the way the Montessori Method does, because I’m not convinced it’s how everyone would learn or teach.

Homeschool Manifesto: Afterword

Homeschool Manifesto BannerOne final, silly question.

How big is your ego?

I just had to tackle this question because it is one of my favorite absurd arguments against homeschooling.

Some detractors like to claim that homeschooling is just an ego trip of epic proportions for a mother (or father!). To which I would answer, so what? Maybe it is for me. Maybe it isn’t. Does it matter? I am very well educated. I am intelligent. I have teaching experience and have immersed myself in pedagogy. My child is going to get a phenomenal education from me. Far better than what she would get in any school. And in the end, no one is more invested and dedicated to ensuring she receives the best of anything than me.

 

So I should probably admit that this was as much for me as it was for the possibility of lending support to others going through the process of making this decision. In taking the time to write this it gave me food for thought, helped me codify some of my thoughts, and process through the uncertainty I had. As with anything my opinions and thoughts will evolve, but I’m glad to have committed this to paper (so to speak). If you have found even one little thing in here that helps you, so much the better.

Homeschool Manifesto: Question Four

Homeschool Manifesto BannerHow long will you homeschool for?

Okay this is probably not a question most people would think to ask. But it’s still a hard question for me to answer and I really wanted to force myself to reflect on it.

Ultimately the answer is, it depends. It depends on how long we can be without two incomes. It depends on how long I feel I can and want to be out of the library. It depends on if a job comes up that I can’t pass up. It depends on how Cam responds to homeschooling.

In an ideal situation I would like to homeschool her through middle school. Our schooling options open up a bit more once she reaches high school. Not to mention that is a long way off and a great number of things could change. I also think up to that point the content of what she learns is irrelevant so long as she gains some basic skills (literacy, basic math, etc.) and, most importantly, a love of learning. How much of that middle school science do you really remember and use?

My plan is to reassess at each natural entry point. So after preschool. After Kindergarten. After third grade. After fifth grade. After sixth grade. And finally after eighth grade. Although I suppose “after” isn’t really the correct word considering if we were to make a change and have Cam enter a new school we would need to apply before the traditional school year was out. Still I would like to homeschool her until high school.