Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Black History Month and Poetry

Each year during Black History Month we highlight someone in history. Of course Martin Luther King, Jr. is a go-to, because he was such an amazing leader. We've also studied Rosa Parks, and a few others.

This year I brought home one book on Martin Luther King, Jr. from the library during his birthday week, and I also found a book of poetry by Langston Hughes, "Poetry for Young People."

Sean read most of the poems today, aloud, while I drove him to PE at the Y. I could tell he was enjoying them. He has always appreciated poetry. One of the poems, "My People" includes an editor's note explaining how Hughes clashed with his father, who had a negative attitude about Negroes. Sean and I discussed why his father might have felt that way. We didn't have a good answer.

When we were finally home, he sort of wandered around the house. I let him, and didn't ask him to do school work, or anything at all. I recognize his pacing. It means he is thinking, and trying to decide what to work on. I believe this is an important process, and should not be interrupted. I also know how important that time can be, because I used to do it every day as a newspaper reporter. To the outsider it looks like you are procrastinating, wasting time, goofing off. For the creative person, it's invaluable time. I was formulating a lead paragraph, recalling all of the standout quotes, and thinking, thinking, thinking. When I was ready, I could sit down at the computer and put together my story. Of course, at a newspaper this whole process has to happen within a very small window of time.

Luckily, we don't have to do it so quickly. After about 30 minutes, he asked for the book of poems. And within about 30 more minutes, he came out of his room. He had chosen a favorite poem from the book, and written about it, and Langston Hughes, in his history composition book.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A mid-year review

This is really just for my benefit, but feel free to read if you are interested.

This school year has, so far, been an exercise in experimenting with unschooling.
We packed up all of our school supplies and Montessori materials in June, prior to taking a road trip through the Southwest. We thought we would have our house on the market in June, and hoped it would be sold by the time we should be starting school in the fall.

But we didn't get the house listed until August, and the house still hasn't sold, and it's January.

We had to do all of our learning without our Montessori materials. We just recently got them out of storage, and set up in a spare room.

What he has done:
Lots of practical life. Planning, making lists, budgets. He comes up with schedules for himself. He has set goals for specific amounts of money to earn, then set about working to earn that money. It hasn't been perfect, but he's practicing, and that is what I like to see. He did make his goal of $100 by Christmas to help pay for his Xbox One. And he has a plan to open a new savings account that will feed into an investment account that he has.

Any new information has come from him seeking it, and he does that mostly through online research. His focus is on science, and specifically biology, and medical science.
Here's one of my observations from work he did in September -The fact that he naturally started making detailed notes of the subject matter, in an organized fashion, and carefully spelled each word, makes me wonder if we all come to these ways of understanding information on our own. Instead of being taught how to take notes, how to organize information, we are naturally able to do it. Or maybe it is easier for this generation because of the access to Internet, and informational videos which provide it in an organized way.
Because he loves science, and I want to give him as many opportunities to pursue his passion as possible, I took him to the Pacific Science Center for the Visiting Scientist day in November. He was able to hold a human brain, and the scientist spent a long time with him, explaining the regions of the brain and their functions. We explored some other cool stuff there, including 3-D printed prosthetics, a robot, and he used a pipet to fill a test tray, like they use in a lab.
He knows how to find information. He makes connections with new information and old, and routinely pulls out his Elements book.

We added PE to our weekly away-from-home school routine. He has enjoyed PE at the YMCA twice a week. He continues to take piano lessons weekly as well.

Vocabulary words seem to excite him, the idea of learning new words, and what they mean. So he has done some of that work, especially in September and October.

This year he got really focused on small, detailed work, specifically with painting small figures. He doesn't use kits, and instead comes up with his own ideas. He painted some Lego figures.

One project has been completed, one that he has done before, but he expanded upon it this year: Deadly Spiders. Instead of a list of deadliest spiders as he has done in the past, after making a draft of what he knows about spiders, he decided to focus on one spider-the Australian Funnel Web Spider.

He has continued to work on multiplication and division, and tried a new system of his own making to try to get the answers quicker.

We've maintained our friendships with our homeschool group, and tried to continue seeing them on Thursdays for a little while, but mostly have seen them at PE.

He has learned some history, the crusaders are interesting to him, and he read quite a bit about them early in the fall. Another history lesson came when I took him to see the movie, "Suffragette," at the Grand Theater in Tacoma in November. He wasn't very interested in going, but I told him I wanted to see it, and I wanted him to go. When we arrived, he asked if he could just wait in the car for me. I explained that I have accompanied him countless times on outings and activities that I would not do on my own, but I did with him because I knew it was something he enjoyed. And that is what we do when we care about someone. We share in their joys and interests. So I made him go.

From an early age I encouraged him to take care of his own business, with my guidance, and in an age-appropriate way. He orders his own food, and in some cases orders for both of us if we go out to an Asian restaurant. He also makes his own phone calls to request information about items he has ordered on the Internet, or if he needs to get his money back for an item that was never shipped. (It probably helps that he has always had a deep voice and doesn't sound like a kid.) Recently I was frustrated with the YMCA website, and couldn't get him signed up for the next session of PE. He took over, and even called the YMCA to let them know the website was difficult to navigate, and that he needed help to sign up for the class.

He continues to draw and create on his own, and I'm so thankful that I have been able to provide him with continued art instruction through our local arts alliance. He has taken several classes again this fall, though he is aging out, it seems.

Reading continues to be a struggle, as far as novels and fiction. He prefers factual information. I did get him started on a book called "The Alchemist." He's reading it, slowly, but reading it. Most of his reading is done online, through his own research, and the history he reads on his own.

His interest in social issues continues to increase. He believes all people should have equal rights, and everyone should be allowed to love who they want to love, and pursue their own interests, education, and have access to equal pay, and the jobs they want.

This sums up most of what we've been doing for the first half of 7th grade. Now that we have our materials, the second half will be more guided.

Signed Numbers

I finally did it. I plunged into the Montessori Algebra for the Adolescent album today.

I woke up today feeling awful, and napped for some of the mid morning. But this afternoon I decided it was time to at least start on the chapter for signed numbers.

My fear when I purchase, especially, or when I make materials, is that he will use it once and won't touch it again, or won't use it at all. I spent a good amount of time making the positive and negative counters, so I was determined that they would be used. (I made them out of foam sheets. One gray, one green. One with adhesive backing. Suggested by Jessica Welsh. Great idea. The positive and negative square counters are 1 cm by 1 cm. I cut the out the skittles by hand, and they aren't so great, but they'll do.)

I demonstrated the problems with the counters, and had him write the problems down in his math notebook.

It went so well! He already understood the concept of negative numbers, which helped. We worked quite a few problems. I started with units, like the example in the album, and he was feeling confident and asked to do multiplication. But instead, I decided he needed to continue with the addition and subtraction, so we worked up to using tens.

Math is the one subject I do not feel confident to teach, but I am determined. I have gone back and forth in my mind about putting him in school part time just for math, or hiring a tutor again, but I really believe in this method, and I want to at least give it my best shot before giving up on it.

I like this album, so far. It is thorough, and has a list of materials at the back, which I find very helpful. The only thing I wish is that albums came with an option to buy materials that match the album. It's time consuming to piece this all together.

This album goes through 12th grade, and includes a lot of math I've never used. I do like a challenge, so... here we go!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Birthday Milestone

This was written in September, 2015

As I write this, Sean is engaged in a major social milestone.

It's his birthday party, although his birthday was a couple of weeks ago. He wanted an Airsoft party, and we've been planning it for quite a while. We decided to make it an optional campout. Being 13 is a big deal, and to me it should come with some big kid stuff. The start time was 4 p.m., because he wanted part of the Airsoft party to be a night game. We took a break for dinner, steaks and hot dogs on the grill, a pizza, veggie tray, and potato salad. Then cake. And as soon as the food settled, they were back out for more Airsoft game.

Five of the six boys stayed to camp in tents. All of the boys who stayed, as well as Sean, have been to camp at Camp Seymour for various lengths of time. But camping in our back yard, in tents, with as much hands-off adult supervision as we feel is safe is different than being at camp with a whole bunch of kids with planned activities. This has been mostly a free for all. Chuck did some herding to get them going on their games, and at the end of the games gave a time limit, and then we confiscated the weapons.

We were liberal with the time limit. At 10 p.m. the games ended and all weapons were brought into the house.

They are laughing, talking loudly, being boys. It's late, and I'd like to go to sleep sometime tonight, but I like that he is experiencing something of a milestone.

My brother and I grew up this way. It wasn't anything planned by our parents. We lived in a neighborhood where most of the homes sat on 1/4 to 1/2 acre, and all of the kids played together. We reached milestones together without realizing it, and it was natural for us to camp out, stay up all hours of the night in the summertime, walk together to the store for a pop and a candy bar, and have disagreements and learn how to negotiate and work it out. We had strict boundaries for behavior and responsibilities, but we were free to be kids.

Parents are different now. A lot of parents won't allow their boys to play with Airsoft guns, or spend the night outside. I get it. I understand their worries.
But these kids are having fun. And I want my son to know what it feels like to sleep out there surrounded by friends, talking nonsense boy stuff, building memories that he will treasure for a lifetime.

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.