Tag Archives: Homeschool

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.

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.