Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Montessori Day

This is a snapshot of a day in our Montessori home:

One day last week we cleared the table and I said, "I need you to do a work plan."

Sean filled out a sheet that I have pre-made with the subjects and blank lines for him to fill in what he is going to do in that subject. For instance: Science-- and he would fill in something like Elements Work.

I went on about my work in the kitchen, and he went outside with a magnifying glass. I went outside to check on something and saw that he was experimenting with it the magnifying glass. He was using the sunlight to burn a piece of wood, then he chose leaf, and then a dandelion. All of these materials reacted differently. (No fires were started, and I admit I said something like, "Be careful. Don't start a fire.")

When he was ready to move on from that work, he came back in and got to work on the next thing on his list. He is writing a book, and listed the characteristics of his main character. Once he was satisfied, he moved on to history. He read more about the ancient Chinese civilization, something we started on last week. When he was ready, he summarized what he had read.

I believe he practiced piano that day, and later on I took him to his first Parkour class.

My only involvement: a request for a work plan, listening to him summarize his history information, and driving him to the Parkour class.

This is a typical day for us. I try to stay out of his way as much as possible, and only give lessons when it's time to introduce something new. This is almost always language, because we are working on writing essays, and imaginative stories. Otherwise, I let him do his own thing. I put out books and materials that I hope will spark him to explore them, and I allow him to do some research on the computer. Of course he talks to me throughout the day about what he is discovering, or he asks questions about what I think about a particular bit of information.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Let the Kids Figure It Out

As a homeschooler, I believe it is important to find opportunities for my child to be around other children on a regular basis. I know there are some homeschooling families who do not believe this is important, and actually believe the opposite to be true. They don't want their children to spend very much time with children outside of their own families.

As a Montessori homeschooler, I want as many opportunities as possible for my child to interact and practice being in social situations. His time in private and public Montessori schools gave him skills to navigate the community of a classroom. Being peaceful is part of the Montessori curriculum, and in order to do that we must practice.

We visited with friends for a little bit of social interaction a few weeks ago. The kids played peacefully inside and outside while the moms talked. Everything seemed just fine.

Time was up and we had to be somewhere. Once we arrived at our evening event I received a text message. The mother of one of the children was concerned. She stated that my child had said a spate of very negative, and some hurtful, things to the other children. Of course she wasn't there to hear these things, so her child had told her these things after we had gone.

Instead of immediately going into interrogation mode, I decided that once I had a chance to talk with my son I would ask about how things had gone that afternoon. What did you guys do? What did you think of so-and-so ( a kid he had only met once before) and so on. I tried to artfully address each accusation without coming right out and asking, "Did you say this?"

Once I got a pretty good feel for how the day went, I decided I wasn't so sure he had said any of those things. He seemed to have a good time. I dug a little deeper and asked a few more questions. He seemed to have a good time playing outside, but admitted he didn't care for the video games that were available. He liked seeing one kid again whom he had met only once before, and I could tell by his demeanor and tone that he would like to spend time with him again.

I wasn't quite sure what to do next.

My main concern was making sure that if he did say the things he was accused of that he realized how hurtful they were, and that it was not OK.

But part of me wondered why in the world I was even dealing with it. Not that I think my child should be allowed to behave badly, but because I didn't understand why the kids wouldn't have dealt with it on their own, at the time.

It turns out that he denies saying them, and so instead of dealing with him saying hurtful things, it has turned into something entirely different. He's been accused of things he didn't do.

I feel very frustrated by this. What are we doing to our children? It seems like parents are so involved in their children's lives that the children can't handle their own business. By jumping in, we are taking away their opportunities to practice working things out on their own when a problem arises.

When I was a kid, and when my older two were kids, this was not the case. I remember  having heated fights and arguments with my friends when I was a kid, and then we found a way to work it out. The stakes were too high not to work it out. If you didn't work it out, who in the world were you going to play with?

I watched from the window as my oldest son, who at the time was about 5 or 6 years old, stand up to some older kids who came into our yard and started bullying my daughter, who was about 4. He flat out told them they had to leave, and were not going to talk to his sister that way. I was standing by in case I needed to intervene, but I let him handle it on his own. Those kids left and didn't come back.

I grew up learning to deal with my own quarrels with other kids. On the playground, in the classroom, at church, or in our own backyard, the kid arguments and issues were theirs to deal with. My mom only interfered when it was clearly dangerous or she was fed up with the noise of an argument.

I tend to take that same attitude. I don't think this is my fight. If Sean had said those things the child has accused him of it would mean that we need to have a serious talk about how to speak to our friends.

He denied using the words he is accused of using. We've had a couple of conversations now about this, and I've asked him how he wants to handle being accused of something he didn't do. One thing is very clear, he plans to handle it on his own.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Approaching the next plane of development

Sean is transitioning to another developmental stage. I think he's embracing his tweenness. I don't think that is a word, but it is real.

So with that will come a different way of learning, I'm sure. I'll have to start reading more about the adolescent mind and how to engage him in work. So far, he still seems to be very engaged and eager to learn.

He's definitely more involved with friends. He spends a lot of time talking to them on the phone, and chatting with them on Skype.

I'm bracing myself for the teen years. Thank goodness I still have a couple of years to get ready. As I talk with other moms of boys his age, they are all either going through rough patches, or are downright off kilter. One mother said her boy has outbursts of anger and rage, hitting and yelling. I know that child, and it's difficult for me to imagine him that way.

My first boy reached puberty and became the most mellow and amazing young man. Except for getting completely bored out of his mind with middle school, he was the easiest person to be around.

Last year Sean had some anger issues, but those have all gone away this year. I attribute this change to homeschooling. He's where he needs to be, and learning what he needs to learn, and having great experiences.

Here's hoping that the transition in the next year or two will be a smooth one.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Radiolab and the Dinosaur Extinction Hypothesis

I follow a blog called Montessori Muddle. This blog is one that I'll be looking at a lot more in the near future. It showcases what's happening in the Montessori middle and high school.

I jumped on my blog today to browse around my list of blogs I follow and saw a post on Montessori Muddle with a link to this program:

Their link was for the podcast, but we decided to click on over to the video. It was great, and made me wish we had gone up to Seattle to see it. I didn't even know it was happening.

It's definitely worth a listen if you've got Upper El, middle or high school students.

Thank you for sharing it Montessori Muddle!!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Elements: The Gifts That Keep Giving

Books are very special in our house. Sean has always had a full bookshelf, and as he has outgrown some of them, they've been replaced with books that are at his current level.

While he was at the public Montessori school there were book fairs several times a year. We attended all of them, and always came away with at least one book. And this is funny, in a way, because this is a kid who doesn't enjoy reading. Not novels, anyway.

It was at one of the final book fairs of the year that I found a couple of things I wanted to put back for his birthday. One was a book called, "The Elements." It's beautiful, and I just knew he'd love it. I also had already been thinking of doing homeschool again, and figured even if we didn't, this book would definitely be useful for years.

He opened it on his birthday last year and was overjoyed. It has been his go-to book for reading pleasure. I haven't asked him to do anything with it at all.

Last week he decided he would use it for the science part of his work plan, and came up with an activity on his own. He wanted to make a list of five elements off the top of his head, then look them up in the book and write down how they are used.

First he began by telling me that elements are so important, because without them we wouldn't be here. We need these elements in order to live, he said. Then he made his list of five, and started looking for them in the book to get information.

While he was working on that his math teacher arrived and made a comment about the book. "That's the one that comes with the cards, right?" he said. It didn't come with cards. I didn't know about the cards. He said he saw it in his Montessori Education Institute of the Pacific Northwest training. He described some of the information on the cards, and how they can be used, and I immediately got online to search for them. Found 'em. Ordered. Delivered on Thursday.

The cards are a companion for the book, in my opinion. Although I believe either could be used exclusively without the other. The book is gorgeous. Each element is represented by a color photo and some information about it. The periodic table is explained and in color as well.

The front of each card has a large color photo of the element, along with the number of the element, and on the back is detailed information.

I had Sean read the cover card, which provides a variety of ways to use the cards. He decided his first work would be to arrange the cards by melting point.

This work had him thinking. He wanted me to work with him, but all I did was hold up a card and say the name of the element, and he would take it and either predict the melting point, or just look on the back for it and place it on the floor. But he decided some of them would be a negative number, just based on what he knows about the element. I was genuinely intrigued with this work, and his explanations of why one element would have a negative melting point temperature while another would be a really high positive number melting point, so I provided the awe and wonder while he walked me through the work as he was doing it.

It also had him using math, and putting the numbers in order from lowest to highest melting point. We didn't get through all 118 of them yet. Unfortunately we work in the living room and couldn't leave all of the cards out over the weekend to come back to on Monday. We stacked the cards he already arranged, and put the others back in the box. I'm sure he'll come back to this work, and I am excited to see how he continues to use these cards in different ways.

If you are interested in "The Elements" book or cards, you can find them here and here. I bought the book at a Scholastic book fair, but got the box of cards from Amazon. I see there is also one called "Elements Vault." It looks great. We don't have that one. Yet.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Things I love About Homeschool: Curriculum

We are lucky to live in a state that honors a family's right for children to learn at home, and to choose the curriculum that works best for their children. This freedom to choose has been a big relief to me.

I know my child, and though I'm still figuring out as we go on this homeschooling journey all of the things that work, I am certain of the things that don't work.

Choosing a curriculum for homeschooling can be a huge task, but for us it has been easy. Sean started his schooling at a private Montessori school, and when I decided to homeschool him for first grade,  I found a large community of Montessori homeschoolers online. It was such a blessing. Although there isn't anyone near us who is using Montessori at home, just having the online community was comforting for me.

Although he ended up going to a public Montessori school for second through fourth grades, when I brought him home this year to homeschool, there was no question that we would use Montessori again.

Now that he is older, we are using some Montessori materials, and I'm coming up with ways to teach other things on our syllabus that are interesting to him. We use an Upper El Montessori curriculum, but it's a mix of freedom within structure. Freedom to choose what to write about, with guidance on how to write about it. Freedom to venture into science topics that interest him, history that is intriguing, and current events.

He comes up with his own ways of learning science at home, and we mix in some monthly trips to Camp Seymour, and the Pacific Science Center. He has materials here that have been given as gifts, and I download some ideas from the Internet. He reads his book about elements and the periodic table, and other science information, and also researches things online. He comes up with his own experiments and questions to research. If he's curious about things like the Bermuda Triangle, we can find a video on that subject, and he can look for more information on his own.

He prefers to read fact, and listen to me read fiction. He reads about planes, technology, and animals, and I read aloud to him books such as Huckleberry Finn, and other classics. We use the newspaper a little bit, and I plan to start using it more, selecting certain stories for him to read so we can discuss them.

We incorporate art into our curriculum, and this was missing from his public school experience. He draws daily, and learns new techniques by researching them on his own. I incorporate drawing into every subject we study, frequently asking him to draw a map, characters for a story, or something he would like to invent.

Fortunately we can afford private piano lessons, but his public school music class definitely reinforced his knowledge of music and prepared him to feed his passion for it.

Our history work is not Montessori material, but he is doing fine with it. I'm trying to bring in some interesting things to go along with the history we are studying.

My child learns best this way. Hands-on materials for some subjects, child-led learning in some areas, and freedom of choice with parameters in other subjects. An outside expert is needed for things like the piano lessons, the math instruction, and the art lessons he is currently taking. Field trips are a great way to reinforce his learning.

What does not work for Sean is a traditional schedule of take out your math book and work on that for X minutes, then take out your spelling book and work on that for X minutes, etc., traditional teaching, and traditional subject matter.

What he needs most of all is freedom, and homeschooling has given us that freedom to choose the methods and curriculum that work best for him. The goal is to learn, and he's doing that.

We are thankful that our state honors our choices, and that we are free to find the best way for Sean to learn.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A step forward

While we were at the Pacific Science Center for the Visiting Scientist program a couple of months ago, Sean spoke to a psychologist who studies fonts and which ones are easier to read, and other ways we respond to font types.

He showed us several different experiments. He asked us to read a sentence written in two different fonts. He asked if there was one that looked like a feminine font. Sean gave him a blank stare. The man turned to me and asked if there was one that looked more feminine, and one did stand out to me, but I wanted to wait until Sean had a chance to answer.

I wasn't sure he understood the question, so I said, "Is there one that looks more girlish, or boyish, to you." He looked for a long time at each one and finally said, "No."

A volunteer at the center was standing with us as we were doing this exercise. He had been glancing at me while Sean was studying the fonts. We waited, and when Sean answered, "No." We both smiled.
I told the psychologist I believe Sean's reaction to this particular exercise was an example of progress in our society.

The volunteer said, "I think that is really awesome."

This is not to say that Sean doesn't recognize certain things as masculine and feminine, but in general he views activities as a matter of interest rather than a "girl" thing to do and a "boy" thing to do.

While we were at a family function, a family member was engaging in conversation with Sean about his activities. She asked him, "Are you going to take ballet?" She is in her late 70s, and to her it was a way to joke around, but he took it as a serious question, thought on it for a moment, and then said, "I don't know. Maybe."

He walked away and she said to Chuck and I that she was really just kidding, but it looked like he was considering it. We explained he is interested in everything, and he doesn't really view ballet as a girl activity.

Children become very focused on making sense of the world when they are around age 7, 8, 9 ish. The traditional roles of households and working world are very important to them. They sometimes say things that don't sound very Politically Correct. I've seen adults get offended when a child talks about their religion, for instance, and insists that everyone is supposed to go to church. In their minds if their family is going to church everyone is supposed to. Just like all mommies are supposed to do whatever their mommies do, and daddies are supposed to do what their daddy does. That is what makes sense.

But Sean has been in a diverse community, and a diverse household, and family. He went to school with transgendered kids, and kids of all faiths and backgrounds, ethnicities, and origins.

It's a big world out there. We don't all fit into a mold. Sean makes decisions for himself based on his interests, and not what others would expect him to choose. That is a beautiful thing, and I hope he will be able to follow his own path and not that of others as he gets older.