Saturday, November 14, 2015

Brain Science

Sean loves science, and has had an interest in the brain for a couple of years.

This month's Visiting Scientist day at the Pacific Science Center was focused on brain science. I knew he would love it, so I put it on our calendar.

It takes us a while to get there, and if traffic is bad it takes longer. Traffic wasn't great, and it was a blustery day. Parking is always a little tricky, even though there is a parking garage. It was nearly full, and I finally found a spot at the very bottom of the garage.

The room was packed with tables, scientists, and budding scientists. It was the most crowded scientist day we've been to so far. The tables spilled out into other sections, and I think there were 20 tables manned by doctors and researchers from the University of Washington Medical Center, and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, along with some university students and volunteers. There seemed to be a mix of brain-related information, and some other science activities. I saw some carnations soaking up various colored dye. There was a guy from Fish and Wildlife talking about fish population, and a table where kids could assemble their own cells with plastic zip lock bag, confetti, and pom poms.

Every table was crowded, except for one in the corner.

When we first arrive at such a scene, he needs to get his bearings and take a moment to scan the room and process it all. It's a little overwhelming.

I decided our best bet was to find a station that was empty and start there.  I scanned the room quickly, and spotted a table in the corner with no kids. I steered him there. It looked boring to the untrained eye, but I knew there were exciting things under the cloths.

Eureka! Real human brains!

The neuroscientist explained the regions of the brain and their functions as Sean held the brain in his hand. His first comment upon holding it was, "It's not as heavy as I thought it would be."

This was the perfect place to start. He got one-on-one instruction, asked questions, and really soaked it all in.

Sean listens as a neuroscientist talks about the brain before placing it in his hand.
From there we moved around the room to look at a robot, and some 3-D printed stuff that included a prosthetic hand. This table was intriguing, because Sean took a 2-hour class this month at one of our library branches on 3-D printing, and designed and printed a letter S. He had fun talking to the guys at this table. He learned that some of them had designed a 3-D printer nozzle to print with clay, but the nozzle doesn't work. However, they learned a lot by trying to make that nozzle, they said. Lesson there, don't be afraid to fail!
Prosthetic hand made from 3-D printer.

From there he went on to a table with a matching game. Photos of brains on one page, and photos of animals on another, and he had to figure out which brain came from each animal.We stopped at a table about blood, and information about blood donation and compatible blood types. Sean got to use an instrument that drops samples into trays, and it was one of his favorite things there.

We absolutely love the Pacific Science Center. Our membership has paid for itself already, and with our membership this year, we get a subscription of Popular Science magazine. Win, win!

Though we've been going since Sean was about 3 years old, it was our first time going into the Butterfly Garden. It was so enchanting and beautiful. I could sit in there all day if they had chairs. That's probably why they don't. ;-)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Learning without School

I'm on a lot of Facebook pages for homeschooling. Most of them are Montessori related, but one of them is our local community homeschooling page.
Recently someone was offering a stack of homeschooling magazines geared toward unschooling through that page. They were free. The mom posting the offer held a drawing and I was chosen to receive them.

Included in the stack of magazines is a book called, Growing Without Schooling Volume One. It's a compilation of newsletters from August 1977- December 1979. I'm in awe of what the homeschooling pioneers went through, and how dedicated they were to ensuring that their children were getting the education they wanted them to have.

Most of the newsletters I've read so far deal with a lot of laws on school attendance during that time in various states, and some personal accounts of school districts threatening the parents with jail for refusing to send their children to school.

The information about learning sounds a lot like Montessori's methods. Maybe these people who wrote in knew intuitively how best to give their children the information, or maybe they were natural Montessorians who observed their children to see what they were naturally drawn to and then provided those things for them. Maybe they themselves had been Montessori students. I don't know. I just know that so far, and I'm only on Issue No. 4, that the parents who have written about how their children are learning were certain they were doing the right thing by keeping their children home. And they were willing to risk a lot to do it.

Most everything I have read I have agreed with entirely:
-how schools elicit bad behavior, the way schools are run more like a penalizing institution rather than a place to learn, and that children learn more and with ease when they are in a home environment.
-The way the schools violate civil liberties by keeping records on children without their or their parents' knowledge, writing sometimes derogatory and slang remarks in those files that are kept and passed on each year to the next teacher.
-How the schools feel like an authority over parents, and bully children. I've seen this first-hand.

The unschooling parents gave evidence that the children were learning just as much, and in a lot of cases more, than their peers who were in school. I absolutely believe they were better off in so many ways. I saw first-hand the negative impacts that school had on my youngest child. I saw it, too, with my older children, but I had not other options.

I see the negative in schools, but I also recognize positive gains in my son that I know are the result of his time spent in Montessori school. They are things, like patience, kindness, manners, perseverance, and curiosity. As I've said before, his experience in fourth grade was not good, and he was losing what he had gained. But when we came home he was delighted, and fully regained all of it.

My fears of unschooling have been slowly fading. We still do Montessori, but I'm much more relaxed when we have a day without instruction. Part of that comes with homeschool experience, knowing that he is still learning. And I find that the more I read, the more I believe in the unschooling idea.

I'm beginning to wonder why we need to believe in benchmarks, standards, grade-level achievements, etc. Who gets to say that a 7 year old should know how to read? Why have we given someone else the authority to decide that instead of the parents? And what does a child gain by being forced to learn? There are so many other examples of standards that I think are ridiculous.

What I've observed is that we all learn in our own time, on our own when given a rich environment filled with opportunities to learn. All children need is that environment, and others around them who they can go to with questions, who understand what they are trying to learn and how to help them to do it.

I would really like to hear from people who grew up in the unschooling movement, or who were homeschooled without a traditional curriculum. My one concern is rigor and the ability to assimilate into college life.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Sensitive Period for Tiny, Detailed Work

If you've got a brother, grew up around boys, or are married to a man, you will likely recognize this sensitive period.

Suddenly, somewhere around the age of 13, there is a strong desire to work with tiny things. A true urge to create something that requires delicate handling, and precise eye-hand coordination.

I'm talking about what I call the small model and model car paint period. For my brother, this need to work with small things started earlier, and he worked on tiny Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars to change their wheels when he was quite young. He also loved tinkering with watches, taking them apart and trying to get them back together as he reached adolescence.

This week Sean requested that we take a trip to Michael's to get paint. He knew exactly the type of paint he needed to re-design some Lego pieces. We had to ask for help to locate it, and there, along with the paint, were the model cars, planes and helicopters.

Though he wanted to dive into those, I wasn't ready to spend that much money. I didn't realize they were so expensive. But I have some good ideas for Christmas now;-). I encouraged him to stay on task, and look for the paint colors he originally came there to buy.

He found two colors that he felt were exactly what he wanted, but the green he had hoped for wasn't the green they had. This led us to discuss mixing colors to achieve the desired color. He loves art, but has been exclusively focused on drawing for a few years. He has been resistant to painting, and so this was the first time we'd discussed mixing paint colors. And so he also chose a bottle of white paint for this reason. He found three paint brushes of various brush sizes for detailed work. I regret not getting a palette, but he has made do with a paper plate.

Patiently, methodically, he has been painting the arms of a tiny Lego figure. He carefully mixed colors, adding a little bit of white, then more, then another, darker color, to finally have the color he wanted.
This project has been his focus for a few evenings this week.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What do you do at bedtime?

Last Thursday, we hosted our homeschool play day that has carried on since last year's Wolf Camp that we hosted on our property. Only Kyle could make it last week, and after I returned from taking Kyle home, Sean was on the computer. It was nearly 4 p.m. and I told him we needed to do some school. I asked him to turn off the screen.
He told me he had done science the night before, but I was skeptical. I hadn't seen him doing science the night before.
He showed me a video he watched about opioids. I decided it was indeed science, and pretty advanced stuff, so I asked him to get his science composition book and carefully, in his best 7th grade handwriting, outline what he had learned from the video.
He first was surprised that he is in 7th grade. I guess he forgot. I have never made a big deal about grade levels, but I like him to know what level he is now, because we are getting ever closer to high school.
He pulled out his sketch pad, held it up and asked, "You mean like this? Can you read this?"
He was seriously curious if he had done work at a 7th grade level. He had outlined what he learned. And he had obviously paused the video to take careful notes and to be sure he had spelled the words correctly before moving on. It was well organized, neatly written, some information was circled with a mark that denoted a this and then that type of scenario of how pain is communicated in the brain. It was so impressive that I was left speechless.
Mostly because we haven't even talked much about my expectations for this year, or about how to take notes, and how to be thorough. But also because the subject matter was very advanced and complex, and he had done it late the night before, when he could have chosen anything at all to do. Legos, a movie, any number of things.
I didn't want to skip doing school, so I encouraged him to think of some reasons why a Dr. would prescribe an opiate. He had some of the medicines listed, and said maybe morphine for a broken bone.
He searched broken bones, and the various ways a bone breaks. I asked him to sketch those and label them, and he did it with skill.
His work led me to wonder if he knew some of the clearly advanced biological terms, and if he knew what the person meant when talking about enzymes. He hasn't chosen to do that work yet, but I am sure he will soon.
And I wonder if we all, after at least some exposure to watching others categorize information, come to understand how to take notes and outline information?
I also wonder if he would do better to start school at 4 p.m., because he clearly does some of his best work after I'm in bed.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Homeschooling and selling the house

It's the first time I haven't been the least bit excited to say goodbye to summer and jump into the school year. It's our first official year of Middle School, 7th grade. I'm getting there, but I'm overwhelmed with life right now.

Our schools start in September around here, and I decided to follow the schedule of our old district, which means we officially begin tomorrow. Just to get him into a routine I did a soft start last week.

I haven't planned anything for curriculum, except a basic concept of what I'd like to see him do this year.  I've had ideas floating around in my brain, read a few of the many items I have on Middle School years for Montessori, and that's about it.

We are selling our house, so almost everything has been packed into bins and put into the POD while we show our home on a regular basis to potential buyers. I thought we would have it sold by now, but there was a delay in listing. It's only been on the market for a month. I packed all of those things away in early June, thinking the house would be listed by the end of June, and we would be ready to pack up and move by now.

Keeping the house looking like no one lives here is a big job. I try to keep everything clean and put away, so that we could do a quick sweep and wipe down and be ready to get out of the house within an hour. It has happened more than once.

I kept only a few things for math and language in our storage ottoman, and figured we could limp along with library and field trips until we are settled into a new place. I miss the homeschool materials. It feels so bare and strange without them. Maybe that's why I haven't been very excited. I'd like to have our old shelves and materials in our living room again, so I could update the materials on the shelves, and we could just go to the shelf and choose something to work on.

But we have to improvise for a while, so I decided to start with goals for the school year. He has some goals, and I have some for him, and we will work together to accomplish those. A lot of them are practical life kinds of skills.

He wants to get solid on Algebra, and asked to do Trigonometry, but I cautioned him that the manual is rather thick for our Montessori Adolescent Algebra. I don't think we can get to Trigonometry in one year.

I want him to learn how to do a budget, and a business plan. He wants to learn how to parallel park, and to fly an airplane.

Some of our goals will likely get changed or altered in some way, but we are both looking at this year much differently than the past two we've spent at home.

He asked me tonight if I had some stuff out for him to work on for tomorrow. I don't, but I will certainly pull out some things. Language will have to be first, because I have to do more prep for math.

This month I see us focused on math and writing. And we might have to keep it going for a couple of months. It can be an in-depth study of those subjects until we can mix in the other things.

We will definitely do some manual labor kind of work around here. He has embraced hard work, and looks for a chance to work outside. Today he cut the raspberry bushes and hauled the clippings out to the compost pile.

After reading one of the papers on adolescents, I recognize that he is fully in that plane of development. His bed covers are always crumpled, and clothes strewn on the floor. He cleans up each morning and makes the bed, but he prefers to sleep without the top sheet anymore, making his comforter a pile of soft material.

His focus is on friends, finding any opportunity to socialize. And I will make sure he has a lot of opportunities for that.

He has become what the paper describes, a cave child. He wants to be in the house, specifically in his room if he isn't in front of the video game. He hangs out in his room, with his crumpled bedding, and his music. He no longer goes outside on his own much. I have to encourage, or ask him to come help me with something in the garden. Then he lingers, walking around the property, playing with the dogs, talking to the chickens, observing the birds in the trees and yard.

This property has been exactly what we needed. It has provided so much joy and opportunity for a healthy homeschool environment. We are looking for another, similar to this one, but one that meets more of what we need.

In case you're looking to relocate to the beautiful Pacific Northwest, to a farm that would be perfect for your homeschooling family, with a Christmas tree farm started with 200 trees growing, 7 acres of land, beautiful flower beds, a chicken coop, small shop, hookup for an RV, and a natural amphitheater with a gazebo for entertainment, and more, here's a link to the MLS:

Friday, July 24, 2015

Thinking about Getting Ready for our First year of Middle School

It seems big. Kind of intimidating. We are launching into a completely different plane of development, and teaching a teenager isn't something I've ever done.

Sean will be 13 just before we begin our year of 7th grade homeschool. I expect to use some of the curriculum from last year, since we sure didn't get to all of the history and language I wanted to cover.

I haven't started on our curriculum for this year yet. We are getting ready to sell our house and move, and we don't know if the house will sell, so we haven't begun to look for a new place yet. We hoped all of this would happen in June, but delays on septic paperwork that was not on file at the county, etc. has set us back a bit. And that has me on hold as far as purchasing any supplies or books for homeschool, and getting really serious and organized. Everything is going into boxes for storage while we sell.

One thing I know I want to do is a PE class at our local YMCA. Our homeschool group that meets each week has been talking about doing this together. I think it's a great idea. We have plenty of opportunities to run, jump, climb, and play here, but now that Sean is getting older I think he needs a more structured PE plan.

I am also looking for other group opportunities for him, because I know that adolescents needs a lot of social activities. I'm still thinking on it, and researching what is available. If I can't come up with anything, I'll create something here like I did last year with the Wolf Camp survival training.

Intern or shadowing someone in the work force, hopefully doing something he wants to learn more about, is another idea I have.

And I was listening to a radio program about children's philosophy classes, and I thought about trying to do something like that with a small group at the private school Sean used to attend.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Road Trip Provides Best Geography, Cultural lessons

The more I relax and observe, instead of worrying and leading, the more I embrace unschooling.

Here's just one example of why:

My oldest son joined the Air Force, and his graduation from Basic Military Training in San Antonio, Texas was at the end of June.
My husband couldn't get time off from work, but I wanted to be there, and make sure Sean was there for it as well. So after a couple of months of trying to decide if we should fly or drive, I settled on a road trip.

It's been years since I've driven that far as the only driver. I admit I was a little nervous about being overly tired, but I have driven all the way across the country before.

Sean was apprehensive. He didn't like the idea of being gone so long.

I convinced him I needed company, and a navigator. The trip was pretty big. It took us six days to get to San Antonio, and longer to get home because I wanted to stop and see as much as possible. We were gone for 22 days. We enjoyed seeing David graduate, and spending time with him while we could due to the restrictions they have for trainees. We saw a lot of San Antonio, visited the Alamo, did the River Walk cruise. We also had fun at our hotel swimming pool, but without Dave. He wasn't allowed to swim.

And here's the unschooling part.

Sean learned so much just by being my co-pilot. Along our way, after I determined our next stop, I would tell him where we were going, I would plug it into my phone navigator, and then I would have him keep track of where we were and how much farther to our next stop.

Although this was completely different from the old days when I used a huge Atlas to help me, it worked great. We stayed on two-lane highways most of the trip, and even traveled on Route 66 for a while. The scenery was breathtaking, and the traffic was minimal for the most part.

We drove through Oregon, Idaho, Colorado and New Mexico on our way to San Antonio, Texas. We experienced extreme heat, and then extreme heat and humidity. Some of the places we drove through had our car thermometer reading 101 F or more.

We took a different route to get home. We drove through a different part of Texas, then into New Mexico, visiting the Carlsbad Caverns area, White Sands, and we saw the continental divide, and Four Corners. We cut over into Utah, visiting a town called Bluff, learning a little bit about the Mormon history in Utah, and climbing Wilson's Arch near Moab. Then we took a highway in Idaho, and avoided Eastern Washington because of wildfires there, and instead headed back to Portland, Oregon, and then home.

He learned a lot about geography, and the variety of landscapes, and he shared some of his knowledge with a friend as I was driving through part of New Mexico on our way to Utah. His friend didn't seem to know where New Mexico was, or Utah or Idaho for that matter. The friend will be starting high school, and is in public school. Sean tried to describe where New Mexico was on the map, and sharing and teaching is the best way to solidify knowledge.

Could Sean have learned all of this in school? Maybe. But after listening to his friend on the phone I have my doubts. Could he have learned this from me through a homeschool geography curriculum? Yes. But would he have really learned it? Would he have internalized it, and been excited about these new places? I doubt it.

We were blessed to have the opportunity to visit these places and experience the different climates, the landscapes, and the people. I handed him my camera while I drove, and he got some beautiful pictures of the monuments in Utah, and the adobe homes in New Mexico.

He asked me why the Native Americans seemed to be so poor, and it sparked a great conversation about disenfranchised people, and the effects of what has been happening for many years. And we stopped at some interesting places, like the Living Desert Zoo in New Mexico, and he took pictures of animals, bugs and spiders, lol.

By interacting with a variety of people, including Navajo, I can now introduce him to information about Navajo and it will mean something completely different to him.

I can only hope that he will remember this trip as fondly as I will. It was so much fun to experience all of the things we did, plus we had some wonderful conversations. We spend pretty much every day together, but the time in the car was very focused with no opportunity for distractions.

This is the kind of guiding/teaching and learning that I like best.