Monday, October 20, 2014

Finding our Groove

Eight years. That's how long I've been studying and practicing as a Montessori mom, and Montessori homeschool guide. This is my second consecutive year of teaching at home.

And yet I still struggle with trusting that my child will learn without me trying to structure his day. I have weekly lesson plans that I hope will keep me on track to get through the Upper El material this year, but some days are just not productive. Last week we didn't accomplish much on that lesson plan.

However, his process has been successful.

Sean has been immersed in piano practice. The focus and tenacity he has for this work is very inspiring to me. In fact, his focus and tenacity for all of the work he chooses impresses me. He does the same thing with art. He is still very committed to drawing, and does it every day.

I believe his focus is partly thanks to his personality, and partly his Montessori education. Without Montessori I don't believe he would have the patience and stamina to keep with a task in the face of obstacles. He will keep trying until he gets it right, if it's something he has chosen to do. If it's something I've chosen for him, he won't.

I managed to tell the Second Great Lesson last week--The Coming of Life. He likes this story, and still seems fascinated by the knowledge that there are microscopic organisms that have been living on our planet for millions of years, and that everything is working according to its purpose.

He had some great experiences.
We hosted something called "Wolf Camp," at our home for about 10 local homeschooling children. The kids got great instruction in animal tracking, and made use of our property to find some cougar tracks--a little unsettling. (I didn't get pics, but I will next time.)

On Wednesday we went to Nikki's so Sean could hang out with is friend, Paul.

Thursday evening we attended a production of Rikki Tikki Tavi at the Seattle Children's Theater. The subject matter was a little juvenile for him, but he still enjoyed it. I have tickets for every production this season, but this will be the last season for us to attend all of them. Next time I will have to choose only the productions for the older kids.

On Friday he attended a Homeschool session at Camp Seymour. No pictures this time, because I didn't stay for this one. I think he's getting older and needs to learn how to navigate some things on his own. There are new camp counselors this year, and he seemed to have a little difficulty at lunch time with the instructions for getting food, but he came home happy. The activities were rock wall climbing and a tour of the garden. We've done it before, but he loves that climbing wall.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The First Great Lesson and our Star--The Sun

While I was telling the First Great Lesson, Sean anticipated what was coming next. He has heard this story for 8 years, but I know that each time he hears it he hears something new, or makes a new discovery.

This time, I let it sit with him for a day, and then I showed him "Journey to the Stars," a DVD that I got for free from NASA way back when we were homeschooling for first grade. I had never opened it, and decided this was the year to do it. It's all about how our planet was formed, and how the Sun was formed and its relationship to Earth.

I was surprised by how much he already knows about the Sun, and planets, and how they were formed, etc.  The kit came with a teacher packet with suggestions for questions and extensions of learning for different age groups.

In case you are interested, here's a trailer for the show.

Here's the website

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Volcanoes and Earth Science: An Epic Field Trip

We spent a couple of weeks exploring some awesome, scenic, parts of this great corner of the U.S., so our school start date was officially today.

Our trip included Yellowstone, where we explored for three days all of the steaming, bubbling, gurgling, boiling and erupting areas. We saw Old Faithful, of course, and the Grand Geyser, which only erupts every day and a half. Buffalo, ravens, and elk were the main animal sightings, and we saw a huge canyon there, as well as amazing rock formations and beautiful lakes and rivers and waterfalls. Yellowstone, for those who don't know, sits atop a caldera, and we learned a lot about what was going on under our feet. Their website includes a lot of virtual things you can do at home, so in case you're interested, you can learn more here.

We learned that the blue water is super hot!

From there we made our way to Idaho to see Craters of the Moon. It's like visiting another world. It is young, compared to Yellowstone. The landscape at Craters of the Moon is from volcanic activity 2,000 years ago. You can learn more about it here.

Luckily there are paved pathways for exploring this park. 

We spent a day exploring there, and ventured on across to Silver City, Idaho. It's a mining town that became a ghost town that has been revived, but it's still really primitive. No electricity. It's 25 miles off the main highway, and it's not a smooth ride.

Onward, and into Oregon. Our next stop:John Day Oregon to see the John Day Fossil Beds. We stopped off there a few years ago, but weren't really prepared to spend time and vowed we would go back. This time we had the proper attire, and were ready to really explore it. It was still very hot during the day, but this time we came in from the other direction and stopped at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center. I could have spent the day there, and they had a nice room for kids to explore fossils, and had a microscope, too. We drove on to the Clarno Unit, where we hiked a short distance, got to see some cool fossils in the rocks, and I got some nice pictures. To learn more about John Day Fossil Beds, click here.
Leaf fossil in a rock on the trail.
Our final stop was Mt. St. Helen's, which was on the way home. By this time the kids were tired, and Sean didn't want to even get out of the car. But I was tired, too, which meant he was getting out of the car to finish this trip, LOL.

Once he was inside the visitor's center he found some interesting things, including a seismograph that records movement you make on the floor beneath it, and one which shows measurements of the current conditions at Mt. St. Helen's. For more information click here.

Seismographs are cool.

Chuck and I had a great time, and I hope the kids both have fond memories of it as they grow up. We experienced new towns, some good food, some interesting people, cool animals, and amazing beauty. They learned a lot, and I brought home a lot of pamphlets and got some Junior Ranger books, and a Junior Paleontologist book for Sean. We've been working in those for a couple of weeks leading up to our first official day of school today.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Planning for our 2014-15 School Year

I've been busy trying to put together a general lesson plan for each week of the coming school year. Sean will be entering 6th grade. 

I'm using the Montessori Upper El curriculum I found at last year. It covers 4,5,6 grade, and I feel that it has given me everything I need to make sure we are on track.  I will go over the general idea of why we need a lesson plan, and discuss the freedoms he will have within the parameters of those lesson plans. Last year he did a work plan every day, and we will continue to do that, but I will require certain subjects to be done more days than others.

Here's what we will be doing this year:     
Language, History, Math, Science, Physics, Reading, Geography, Biology, Botany, Writing, Drama/Storytelling/Music/Art, and current event study.

 We will be using Montessori grammar symbols, going deeper with the parts of speech, and some online sentence diagramming for Language.                                                                                   
For History, I use Passage of Time A Textbook for ICSE History and Civics. It's a series of books from India, so there is quite a bit of focus on that part of the world, but I find that it gives a LOT of what we need. I just skip over what we don't need right now. Last year I bought Passage of Time 6, which covers first humans through ancient civilizations. We're finishing up Greece, Rome and ancient Native Americans before we dive into the 1,000A.D to 1865 that I have planned for the coming school year. I will combine some of Passage of Time 7 and 8 for this work. (And there will still be some left for Middle School work-yay!) I hope to take him on a field trip to a Medieval village near where we live, and he will have the opportunity to do some research projects of his choosing. We could possibly be visiting some of the US sites we study, if our plans pan out.

Math will be a fluid, ever-changing journey,  at least in the beginning. Our private instructor, who is Montessori trained and awesome, has a different work schedule starting in September and can't help us this year. So I will follow the Upper El curriculum, but I will pull from various resources. I'll look for presentations from albums that I have, and one resource that I'm looking at seriously is Khan Academy. 

Science is overlapping botany and biology, and we will use a lot of Montessori 3-part cards and booklets. We will begin with animal and plant cells and move through to human physiology for biology and plant life for botany, but we will look for some science experiments that require the math we will be using. I hope he will also be attending our local YMCA camp for homeschool days once a month.

Reading is going to include a lot of choice within parameters. I will be reading aloud, and I'm hoping to encourage him to choose books from a list included with the curriculum, which will enhance his understanding of history, science, and the other subjects. I also want him to read for pleasure, but we shall see. He hasn't been very excited about reading chapter books.

Geography/ Physics will be a lot of hands-on projects, beginning with simple machines and moving to more complex ideas. We will be looking at old maps of the world, comparing them to current ones, making maps, and using them to track our route on one of our trips.

For writing I will have him do journal entries, reports and projects. We will explore all of the various types of writing, including newspaper ;-) (I used to be a reporter.)

He is already taking piano lessons, and we will focus in on drama for a while. I've already got us scheduled for plays at the Seattle Children's Theatre, and I plan to have him write about what he liked and learned during those performances. I'll be looking for some storytelling resources in our area (something easy to come by in the South, but I haven't seen a lot of it here) and I hope our local art alliance will offer free homeschool art classes again. 

I have ordered Time for Kids to keep him informed on current events, and I will have him read some newspaper articles. He will be asked to choose one topic from a source to discuss. And we will study which sources are true journalistic sources, and trustworthy, and why.

When I look at this list it looks like a lot. I've done a rough draft and I'll be refining it, but this is the general outline. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Break of Sorts

We're taking a little break from school until July 16.
We've worked hard. I've done research,  printed, laminated, organized, purchased, purged, scheduled, encouraged, pleaded, inspired, and read until my eyeballs were ready to pop out of my head.

I've spent hours thinking. Thinking of ways to spark interest in subjects, ways to encourage Sean to read, or write, or see something in a new way. (I've spent way too much time worrying.)

Sean has worked so hard on cursive, been diligent with his piano practice, worked on math, done research on science and physics, and branched out on his own with some history research on the French-Indian War. He has demonstrated a knowledge of timelines and of how everything in the world is related or connected in some way.

He has happily worked on learning about the elements, inner workings of Earth, and understanding the solar system. He did lots of his own work, including a written report on the 10 deadliest spiders, which he presented to the family. He did a science experiment with tangerines to see which one would rot the fastest.

The required work that was on our list included ancient civilizations, and he has willingly read the books, and researched those civilizations. We covered the earliest humans, how they settled and became farmers and began the first civilizations. We studied Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China.

We had a conversation about the work we still have to do with ancient civilizations, and we plan to cover Greece and Rome this summer. He suggested we save Native American ancient civilization for September.

Though he doesn't like to write when asked to do it, he did a lot of writing this year. He did descriptive writing, we worked on diagramming simple sentences, and then moved to more complex sentences. He wrote poetry, and he wrote stories from picture prompts, and his own imagination.

Art has been a part of every single day, and his art has become his own. He attended art classes, which gave him instruction on charcoal, pastels, glass beads and how to make a wind chime. He had piano classes, math instruction, chess club, and we spent the fall and early spring doing homeschool classes at our local Camp Seymour. There he learned about water systems, fungi, birds, and dissected a squid. He also did archery and scaled the climbing wall there.

He spent many Wednesdays at the archery range, and took a Parkour class this spring.

We packed a lot into this year.

I didn't realize how much I would enjoy the break until today, when I woke up and realized I could do anything I wanted to do without supervising him to be sure he was doing something school-related. It will be nice to have a few weeks off. But I'm already gathering information and materials for September when we start our full curriculum again.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Getting a Boy to Write, and Read

Sean is not a kid who will typically choose to write. For most of this school year he has been apathetic about reading and writing. He has started some writing projects, and abandoned them. He will do a journal entry if I suggest it, and he will write poetry without my prompting, but story writing isn't usually on his work plan.

Sometimes I can come up with something that will get him excited about writing. Recently I started him on The Nightmare Room, a writing program by R.L. Stine.

In the past he has read some of R.L. Stine's books, and he does enjoy them. When I mentioned that R.L. Stine had a program to help students with writing, he got excited.

(I downloaded it here, in case you are interested.)

To get him to read, well, I've tried and tried. It's hit and miss, and he hasn't read an entire book all year. He reads factual books, about airplanes, or how things work, or about spiders and animals, but I don't think he has ever read to the last page.

I've worried about it and tried to think of ways to encourage him, but nothing seemed to be working. I don't use rewards and punishments because I don't want him to do things for the reward, I want him to do it because of the reward he feels by accomplishing the task, or learning the material. And in the case of books, I want him to enjoy the journey a book can provide.

I started telling him he could choose absolutely anything, a comic book, a magazine, it didn't matter.

But a couple of days ago I woke him up to get ready for the day, and when I went back in his room to check on the progress, he was in bed reading a book.

I didn't say a word about the book, but he told me he had decided to take it easy that day and would be out in a little while. I walked out of his room smiling to myself, knowing that once again he had come to something on his own. And just as he has done in the past with other works and learning, I imagine he will take hold of reading and go for as long as he needs to, and come back to it again when it is time.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Boys Are Failing, And Here's Why

We want them to be girls.

I'm not pointing fingers, because my thumb will be pointing right back at me. We are requiring boys to do things they simply are not built for, and we have expectations for behavior that are completely unfair.

Look at a classroom. Sit still. Be quiet. Don't fidget. Stop tapping. Don't make that noise with your foot. No you may not get up and walk to the book shelf. Now take out your pencil and paper and write an essay about what you did this weekend. What? You didn't finish that essay? It's time for recess. Guess what? Because you didn't finish the essay, and you walked to the window instead of sitting in your chair, you don't get to go to recess. You have to stand against the wall of the building and watch the other children play. (This seems to be a very common form of punishment.)

But if you look at the kids standing, watching other kids play at recess because they are being punished, you will see that most, if not all, of them are boys. Every. Time.

And you will see why this is so ridiculous and needs to stop.

It isn't working, and it isn't fair.

Why do boys throw things, jump from the top stair, slide down a banister, use a baby doll as a weapon, and treat each other like punching bags?

Now I know why. Boys are wired differently than girls.

Chuck and I spent last Saturday at the "Helping Boys Thrive" summit in Edmonds, Washington, learning why boys are this way. The summit was co-hosted by Michael Gurian, a mental health counselor, and Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center-A Place of HOPE. Both of these men have authored numerous books.

I will attempt to share what we learned in the six hours we were there, so this is condensed.

In a nutshell, boys' brains are different than girls' brains. And we don't stop being different once we are grown up.

The difference begins in the womb. This is not something that any of us have any control over whatsoever. The way the brain is formed is biological, or nature, if you will, not nurture. Brain development is a constant. Some things we have some control over, and can shape and change with societal norms and expectations. The brain development is not one of them.

While girl brains are getting the development for language all over the brain, and a little bit of their brains are developed for spatial relationship, boy brains get HALF of theirs for language and the other half is for spatial relationship. (Not relationship as in boyfriend, girlfriend. Spatial as in physics and engineering.)

This fact was presented to us with brain scans of boys and girls across cultures.

This difference in brain development begins to happen at about the fourth week of conception.
Please. Don't get defensive. This isn't to say there are not female engineers, it's just a scientific fact that the brains are different. About 20 percent of us have what is referred to as a bridge brain, meaning that either gender can have a little bit  more of the other's characteristics, but male brains are NOT female at birth, or at any other time in their lives. If there is a Y chromosome, then there is a male brain.

Also, the boy brain is bathed in testosterone in the womb, and this hormone is the aggression hormone.

From the time that boys are very young it is clear that they need to move, and some need to move more than others. That is why if you are looking for one, it is important to find a daycare or preschool with plenty of space, both inside and out, for movement. (A little Montessori plug here, true Montessori schools do a great job of allowing for a lot of movement, especially through third grade.)

This need for movement is also why using no recess as punishment doesn't work. They NEED that outlet, that time to run, get the energy out of their system for a while, and there is also a lot of social learning that happens on a playground.

The systems we have in place for school are really geared more for the way girls and women do things, and especially how they learn.

If you put a boy in a regular classroom and make him sit at a desk or table, expect movement. And what I've noticed is that by the time they are around 8 or 9 years old, if not sooner than that, they tend to tap their pencil against the desk, doodle on their math page, wiggle their foot, bang their knee against the leg of the table, or some other fidgeting behavior. As irritating as this may be to others, and especially to teachers, boys are not doing this irritate you.

It is to keep their brain awake.

Boy/man brains shut down easily. If they are not actively engaged in something, their brains want to shut off. Brain scans show that a girl brain at rest is still very active, while a boy brain at rest is shut down. To keep this from happening, we have to allow boys to fidget. Let them doodle and draw. If their brain shuts down they aren't learning. (One of the activities the boys in Sean's Lower El class loved to do was finger knit. They did this while the teacher was talking or reading to them.)

Boy brains have a lot of gray matter, and this leads them to focus on the moment. Girl brains have white matter, and this allows them to be thinking of a million things constantly. Even when they are resting. Boys do not like innuendo. We have to be direct, and we need to use powerful visuals when we need them to transition to another activity. Sign language works well.

We were told that their brains aren't equipped to write and speak immediately when we demand it of them. They need time to process. So instead of asking them to write an essay, tell them you'd like them to storyboard the subject, then write about what they just drew.

If they are upset, or have just had an outburst that led to some kind of time out, don't immediately demand to know what happened, or get them to talk about it. They really can't articulate it right away. Cortisol, the stress hormone, increases in these situations, and a drink of water will reduce the cortisol. Do that first. Then ask them to go with you for a walk. Maybe let them bounce a ball as you walk, and then begin to ask them what they think happened and talk it through.

It's also OK for boys to be aggressive.  Boys are naturally aggressive, and it isn't a bad thing. It is their way of bonding and showing affection. They love to hit and be hit, etc. What we have to watch out for is the intention behind the physical aggression. Once the intention is to do bodily harm, and not just play around, that is not aggression, it is violence.

Getting hurt on the playground is healthy. It isn't going to kill them. We have to stop hovering over our boys and protecting them from the things that will help them develop and become young men.

Because boys like using objects and moving them through space, i.e., swords, sticks, balls, rocks, etc., it is important to give them that outlet with rules or parameters. They are also drawn to video games because of the visual stimuli, and the ability to control objects moving through space. They are good at these things, celebrate it, but limit it. Because of the visual stimulation, it triggers something in the brain that makes them crave it. More of it just makes them want more, like an addiction. Talk about your values around technology and screen time. Limit it. It can also interfere with sleep. Some people have a rule that TV and games must end two hours before bedtime.

Another very important point to make is that boys NEED a three-family system. The first is the family involved in day-to-day care of the child, the second is a group of friends the child can go to to talk, and a community or faith family is third. With all three in place, things are easier for you and the child. Boys naturally want a kinship group. If we don't find a healthy way to provide it for them, they will seek it out and can find the kinship in gangs.

Boys are good at all sorts of things, and we need to allow them to be in charge of their decisions, and show them they are appreciated and valued. Boys are funny. We have to allow them to be funny, allow them to talk about guts, boogers, slugs, poop, snot, and all those icky things that girls don't like.

The alternative is just not working. What we are doing is failing them. Of course there will be those boys who do just fine in the system that is designed for girls. But what about the rest of the boys? This video contains staggering statistics and statements.

Here's a humorous video about the difference between men and women.