Sunday, October 29, 2006

What type of homeschooling do you practice?

I get this quesiton a lot. Mostly in conversation with friends, relatives or others who are out there, silently reading the blog. It's good to know you're there. :-)

So, here's the answer: We do what we need to do, as it works for us. How's that for elusive?

If I have to give a more defined answer I'd say that we defy categorization. I've never been one for following rules. Although we honor the schedule, understand the need for structure, and have a few tried and true beliefs, rigidity in any form is not our way.

That said, for those who'd like to know here are three areas we fit into:

Unschooling. Unschooling is a term coined by educator John Holt. He wrote many works about revamping public schools and how kids learn. Unschooling is kind of a hot topic these days. We are not radical unschoolers or parents who use the label and then ignore what happens. Rather, we try to follow our kids' lead; their natural curiosity generates their will to learn. We simply help them find the means. For more info check out this article: What is Unschooling? or The Sudbury Valley School.

Waldorf Inspired. Waldorf is a method developed by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian Philosopher in the early 1900s. This method emphasized child development and art.
We say Waldorf Inspired because we don't follow Waldorf exclusively. There is a lot I like about the Waldorf method, especially for the younger ages, in fact Waldorf inspired pedagogy is what we are mainly following these days (within our schedule and lesson blocks). However, some of the philosophy simply does not work for our family in this modern age. There is an intersting article entitled Oak Meadow and Waldorf that talks about this very topic. Oak Meadow is a Waldorf inspired homeschooling curriculum used by many. We use it and really like it. For more information check out this site: Waldorf Homeschoolers. Plus there are some Waldorf Resources within the links to the right.

#3 Core Knowledge. Core Knowledge Foundation is a non-profit that conducts research on curricula and developes materials. It was founded in the late 80s by Edward Hirsh and offers a variety of books on what the foundation deems: core knowledge.
The Core books were created to be used by teachers in the classroom and as supplements by parents of publically schooled children. We like the series "What Your ___ Grader Needs to Know." These are pretty rigid books, but they are well written, easy to follow and provide a good map of what a child might be ready for. Lots of homeschoolers use this series as the basis of their schooling. We like them and use them mostly as reference points and to see what public schooled kids of the same age might be up to. I also get some good ideas for answering questions that Nightowl frequently poses.

So there you go, that's how we homeschool - most of the time. While we draw from these sources we don't use them exclusively and sometimes we use them not at all. Sometimes we look at work by Charlotte Mason, Suzuki, various library materials, UU materials or we draw from our own experience. We also get a lot of information and ideas from other homeschoolers. We are finding that there is no single, correct map for learning. Our kids don't fit conveniently into any mold - and we like them that way.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Making Lasagna

At the end of our Natural Science block we decided to make lasagna. Actually, we've been planning this for some time but last week the weather and timing came together. Lasagna time!

In the cool autumn chill of mid-October the kids and I took ourselves out-of-doors and began work on our lasagna garden. No, not a garden where we grow the fixings for the cheesy pasta dish of the same name. In this case Lasagna refers to the layering technique for building soil.

We first heard of this method when we stopped to chat with Rhea, a lovely older woman who lives, and gardens, near one of our downtown parks. Rhea's lawn has no grass. It is completely planted with every imaginable native plant. We admired her lawn and stopped to tell her so. She recommended that we try it using the Lasagna method to kill our sod and begin planting. I did a little research and found The Lasagna Garden by Patricia Lanza.

In a nutshell: mark off a space, build layers of organic material, plant. In our case we're opting to build our garden space in the fall and then plant in the spring. But the layering is the same.


First, we marked our space. Then we added the first layer: wet newspaper.

Then the second layer: peat moss. Then the third layer: straw.

Then the fourth layer: leaves.

That's all we've done for now. Our plan is to add at least 8 more layers before it snows. The entire process took a couple of hours. The most suprising thing is how much we all enjoyed the endeavor. I am not a gardner. Despite growing up and spending most of my life in a farming state I do not garden, never have. And my eldest - she hates to get dirty. This is the child who as a baby rarely needed a bib, who at three finished painting in pre-school with a completely clean smock, who at six took a bucket of soapy water and scrub brush to the new tire swing before she would use it. We're talking neat and tidy.

Once I persuaded her to wear the old sweat pants ("They are comfy," she admitted) and told her that finally I was willing to try a garden ("I've been wanting flowers for years, Mommy.") she was game. She had a great time. During our peat mossing she kicked off her shoes and rolled in the dirt shouting: "I want to stay here like a pig forever!" During the whole session she kept exclaiming about how much fun it was. She even enjoyed raking the yard (a bonus chore off the to-do list).

I enjoyed it too - the work, the outdoors seeing my two kids so happy (Bearcub drank the newspaper water, poured peat moss in her hair, rolled in the hay and threw leaves.) And I'm so glad to have given Nightowl the opportunity to get down in the muck and love it. We're already looking forward to adding more layers! And who knows, perhaps in the spring we'll have a bed ready for planting. Here's hoping.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Right on!

I found this article: No Room For Site Inclusive of All, originally published in June 2005, when I was puttering around the UU Homeschoolers site today. Don't know why I didn't see it before.

Here's my favorite quote:
"With the homeschooling movement growing in popularity, experts say the philosophical mind-set is shifting to include more people who see home education as an extension of good parenting rather than an outgrowth of religious instruction."
Check it out!

Also don't miss: Unitarian Universalist Homeschoolers

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Handwork/Craft Log #1

Six weeks of handwork and crafts - here's what Nightowl's finished so far:

Pre-knitting: Twisty-turnies, braiding stick, finger knitting, hand knitting and beginning knitting project.

First finished knitting project: the multicolored washcloth!

Desk and chair for Elizabeth (she's practicing her reading and writing). Nightowl made this in the woodshop of our homeschooling friends Art, Gwen and Zosia. It was hand painted later by Nightowl.

Three sets of handmade knitting needles and the beginning of the second knitting project: the warm fuzzy scarf.

The scarecrow - halloween cometh! We were joined in this project by our neighborhood friend, Summer. Good times!

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Drawing Emerges

Last week we were busy with the continuation of our Natural Science Block. We visited her tree, compared needles and leaves. Made a book of pressed leaves (still in the pressing process) and heard more from Grandforest. The week ended with our trip to the Orchard.

Today we spent time learning about the process of the apple tree - from seed to fruit. Again using the Grandforest Tree resource we cut apart apples to find the five pointed star - memories of the flower bunch, blossom and seed. We've done leaf rubbings. It's all been good - learning all over the place.

Today, however, I'm struck more by how Nightowl's drawing is changing. Remember how frustrated she was when asked to "draw without outlines." She was especially worked up about her first drawing of the pine.

Since then something has changed. I noticed it first when she came to me with a new drawing of her evergreen tree that she wanted to paste into her main lesson book. She did this on her own, during free time, with her own crayons. Wow! Check out the difference.

The depth in this picture compared to the first. And her resistance to letting the image emerge, without outlines, continues to dissapate.

She did these images of different types of evergreen needles without outlines but stumbled when it came to the maple leaves (these were traced).

She tried the maples on the next page and viola - more vivid.

And then today we had no plans for drawings - like to keep things from getting too static - but she insisted that she wanted to create the lesson using block crayons. And so....

Again, sort of a combination of both techniques, but it's coming along. And she's learning how to correct aspects that she doesn't like. Plus, a good depiction of the science covered today. All in all lesson well learned. Can't wait to see what happens next.

Two Violins

On Tuesday last week I picked up my new violin and Nightowl and I entered the world of duet practicing. It's been about 5 years since I picked up a stringed instrument as I sold my cello when she was 13 months ("I can't imagine playing it again"). I'm a little rusty but so far so good. I ordered my violin based on reading John Holt (Learning All the Time) and his thoughts on the Suzuki method. Make no mistake the violin program Nightowl is enrolled in is wonderful - we couldn't be happier. After a year of playing she is confident and enraptured with the instrument. However the pieces have become more challenging - Minuets and the like, so a little dueting seemed like a good idea. We are playing together and she is taking the time to instruct me. "Mommy your bow is swooshing. Don't let it swoosh. Here watch me." This type of thing thrills her.

So on we go. And, confidentially, I love having a stringed instrument back in my hands.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

"What I like about homeschool."

Today we went on a field trip, with the LEARN co-op, to Apple Acres Apple Orchard. We visited the orchard, the apple cleaning and sorting facility and the cider house. We picked our own apples from the trees. Nightowl loved it and had a lot of fun.

Later, after quiet time, we were sitting together and enjoying a hot drink when Nightowl mentioned that one of her public school friends said: Homeschool seems like it's a lot easier than public school. Nightowl reported that her friend seemed a little sad during this talk.

I find it interesting that Nightowl discusses schooling and other such important issues with her friends (both homeschooled and public schooled). She is interested in all kinds of issues and the notion of how one is schooled is something we discuss frequently. The comment from the friend today led us to a discussion of: Is homeschooling easier than public school? Instead of recounting our conversation from memory I've got Nightowl here with me. I'll type her answers as she tells me:
Remember the conversation we had upstairs? I'll type your answers about homeschooling being easy or hard. They will show up on the blog for our friends and grandparents to read. So, what do you think about homeschool? Is it easy?
I think homeschool is very easy because I like it so much and so well. I think it's fun because I can learn whatever I want. We get to have Learning Club and we get to have fun. Everything we do is based on having fun. And we do. It's especially fun for me. I think I'll always like homeschool.

Do you want to mention anything about it being hard or easy - like what we were talking about upstairs?
Some things are hard. And some things are easy. It all depends on if I like it.
What's hard?
Form drawing was hard. But we're not doing it anymore. We will do more but that won't be for awhile. I liked form drawing but I did not like the hard ones so well. For they were hard. Really hard.
Anything else you want to say about hard and easy stuff?
I think it's fun going to the apple orchard. They tell you a lot of stuff. There is a big refrigerator room that is really chilly. It's full of boxes and boxes of apples. The not so good apples they use to make cider. I liked it because my mom let me get a carmel apple. I also get to taste the cider samples. We got to pick apples and look at all the buildings. There is a funny polishing machine. Me and my friends thought it was funny to watch them swim around in the big machine.
Anything else?
You can start whenever you want and end whenever you want. I like that we can do anything we want.
What don't you like?
I do not like...actually there is nothing I don't like.
Even when you do hard stuff?
Yes, I liked form drawing but only once in a while. I think I'm all done. Oh there is something I wanted to say: The instruments I play are piano, violin and recorder. That's all.

From the mouth of the babe.


News of the day: Nightowl will be getting glasses. I suspected she was having vision trouble a couple of weeks ago - she was unable to see the music when we were working on violin. Our trip to the eye-doc today confirmed it. She's farsighted, at least for now - there is some chance that she will outgrow it. Truthfully, I'm not holding my breath as I've been in specs since I was about 8 and her father also wears glasses. On the plus side she only needs them for detail work: reading, writing, handwork, art, music. In short for all the school type stuff we've been doing.

She picked out a snazzy pair of pinkish/purpleish metal frames with small rhinestone flowers in the corner of the eye pieces. Plus they are engraved with our phone number in case they should be lost; modern convenience.

Today she would randomly burst out with: "I don't want to wear glasses." Then there would be a long sigh and silence. At other times she seemed excited saying: "I don't want to wear them just for reading and knitting and drawing and playing music - I want to wear them all the time!"

We shall see (no pun intended) what transpires when the glasses officially arrive.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What I Know Now

Monday was a sick day. Nightowl had been up breathing steam at midnight so this wasn't too surprising. What was surprising was the whole concept of "sick day." I remember as a kid that sick day meant relaxing, doing nothing, getting well while watching t.v. As a parent I recall sick days from the time when I was working or when we were doing preschool - the need to arrange childcare, the worry about what we would do ALL DAY LONG. Yikes.

The homeschool sick day is a horse of another color - largely, I suspect, because of my new attitude toward home and activities. So it was a sick day - but we're already home. Nightowl took it easy and stayed on the couch until lunch and during quiet time, after which she was feeling better. What did we do? Exactly what we always do - minus the physcial stuff. We worked on our natural science block, did some reading, some art, learned a little bit more Russian.

The school work we do is no longer "school work" it's everyday. It's what we do. For us learning is no longer a separate activity as in "Now it's time to do school." It just is. I was trying to explain this and our general way of life now to a friend whose kids go to public school. I had a hard time explaining. She laughed and called us all "a bunch-o-buddhas." Which is a good thing - I think? Words from those within the eastern religions.

Anyway, this is now the way and it seems to be working. Today was our second (sorta) sick day - although Nightowl was much better and even went to soccer practice this evening. We spent our craft time working on pop-up faces - a cool little craft that came to us from Wonder Homeschool. Neat!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Science (and other subjects)

Our first week of Natural Science was pretty successful. We did not do all of the activities I had planned. We did some and made up others. Exploring the Forest with Grandforest Tree is the main resource we're using for this block. I knew I liked this book when I first laid eyes on it (Thanks Andrea!). I started loving it when I read through it. Now, working the lessons with Nightowl I have to say that I really love it.

We started our week with a tale about how forests began. The story sets a very meditative mood. I had her lie down and look up at the branches of our silver maple. Nightowl was completely inspired when hearing about the rocks then the lichen then the moss then the ferns then the soil then the trees. She had some specific science questions about lichen etc. which we were able to find answers to from resources we had around the house. Then we went searching for lichen and moss and ferns. We found quite a bit - it's very humid and wet here. Next she wanted to draw the story into her main lesson book. Note that there are no trees in this picture just rain, rocks, lichen and moss.

The next day, on our morning walk I noticed that she was much more observant of the trees in our neighborhood. By the time we had reached home she had collected a variety of leaves. She wanted to do leaf prints - not on our schedule but ok. So we broke out the tempra paints, set up the easel for Bearcub and got to work using a selection of fall colors.

It was Bearcub's first attempt at painting and in about 3 minutes she painted herself, the paper on the easel, the cement, and me. In short she made a huge mess and had a great time. I was lucky to get the photo - the camera got painted too.

Leaf printing is tricky business and Nightowl found it frustrating as the leaves did not come out exactly as she wished. Her first inclination was to give up and start over. But, as she was putting the prints into her main lesson book there was no turning back. I think it was a good exercise for her. She worked for a long time and was, in the end, satisfied with the final result:

This picture inspired a nifty little math discussion about pattern and sequence which then led into leaf forms and form drawing - didn't see that coming.

On day three, during our walk, we searched for a tree that Nightowl could adopt and watch during the school year. She is most interested in pines so we stopped to examine most of the pines in the neighborhood. During this walk she discovered that:
  1. Different pine trees have different length needles
  2. Longer needles tend to be softer.
  3. Shorter needles tend to be sharper.
In the end she selected a medium sized tree located one street over from ours. It's a fat, full tree, 35 steps around, with medium needles that are "kinda pokey." She also figured out the street name from the street sign - reading in action!

On returning home we started our main lesson (hadn't it already started??) - a guided meditation with Grandforest Tree. Nightowl stood quietly next to our silver maple and tried to imagine her own roots and branches. From this exercise she got a pretty good idea of how trees get nutrients from the soil and how leaves take in moisture. She then happily dubbed our silver maple as our very own Grandforest Tree and gave it a big hug (I've created a tree hugger!).

When this was finished she still wasn't done. Now she wanted to write a story about her adopted tree.

So in we went. Opened the main lesson book and....well, I didn't actually mean to begin story writing until our next lesson block on language arts we go. I showed her how to set up the pages with golden lines and how to separate her words using golden stars (ala Donna Simmons) and she was off.

I tried to entice her with simple sentences and was successful with the first. But for the second she would not settle for: "It has pinecones." So we headed into the realm of the creating sentences with more than one multisyllabic word.

She ended her story with a picture of her pine. During last spring and summer we practiced drawing without outlines - the Waldorf way. This method is advocated for a variety of reasons (more than I will recount here). Nightowl hates it. She loves to draw - her way. She spends hours and hours and hours drawing her way. Drawing is her way of calming down, relaxing and soothing her soul. To be given directions in drawing is an insult deeply felt. So, we talk about it and she tries.

She was quite frustrated with her drawing of the pine. She kept defaulting to outlines and then getting angry. But she stuck with it and, in the end, made her picture into something she could live with. We'll continue with this type of drawing because it really taps into her focus, creativity, perfectionism and patience.

During the weekend we've visited her tree every day. She's quite insistent upon it. Plus she's learning to read all the street signs in our neighborhood - so she can find her tree. And she's been collecting things - for her main lesson book - from her tree.

So, we started out with the intent to explore science and ended up covering science, math, art, form drawing, language arts and a little bit of neighborhood geography what with the sign reading. The week ended with an episode our homeschool coop: The Learning Club, various music lessons and three soccer events. Whew. No wonder I felt so exhausted. No wonder Nightowl was so jazzed.

Wonder what next week will bring?