Saturday, December 21, 2013

Letting Go So My Child Can Learn

Homeschooling can be intimidating. I remember that it was somewhat intimidating the first time we did this, but it was first grade, and in our state kids don't have to attend school until they are eight. That took a little bit of pressure off, because I figured whatever we were doing was gravy.

But this time he's in fifth grade, and I've been a little nervous that we were behind according to my lesson plans and curriculum.

Today, I had an epiphany. I realized that I am worrying for no reason. I've thought that before, and I can't really describe why it finally sank in today, except that I read some things today that led me to that moment.

I read a post on Facebook about a radical new teaching method by a teacher in Mexico who took his students from mediocre and failing to the top students in Mexico, just by asking, "What do you want to learn?"

In that same article there was a story about a man in New Delhi who put a computer in a room with some 10-14 year-olds and they learned on their own how to operate the computer. And then he put a program on the computer about molecular biology, and said, "There's some stuff on that computer you might like to see." And he walked out, and left them alone to explore it. And they learned molecular biology.

And it clicked in my head. Sean has been doing this on his own since I allowed him to sit at a computer. Waaaayyyy back in first grade, he loved to get on Google and research snakes. That was his thing back then. He wanted to know all there was to know about snakes. He read on the computer, and he checked out all of the snake books at the library and would compare the information from each one.

He has been doing it all these years, finding what he wants to know. I don't like him spending a lot of time in front of a screen, so I discourage it. Well, not discourage, but limit. And I don't really delight in anything he's doing on the screen for fear that it will encourage him to spend even more time on the computer.

 But now I believe I have been worrying for no reason. I still don't plan to allow him to sit idly in front of a screen, but I will honor his desire to use this technology.

I also was hit with the realization that he is explicitly asking me for what he needs, and I have to give it to him. He had a great week this week, and it's because I decided to be completely hands-off with instruction this week. I started out with feeling sick on Monday, and so he was in charge of his own schooling that day. And he did it. He worked on three works, and then he did math with his math teacher that day. The next day he did his own work plan, and he worked through it to completion. One of his works was science, and he decided to research the physics of parkour online, and then he shared his findings with me.

On Wednesday he did math before going to the shooting range, and then quickly got to work when we were home again so he could get his work plan finished.

I suggested that he might want to focus on making his Christmas gifts on Thursday, because he is drawing artwork as gifts. But he also did other works as well, and worked on Friday, too.

But somewhere in the middle of the week he asked if he could just do his own work, just study what he wants to know. I said yes, but hesitantly. I said we would have to follow the basic curriculum that I have, but he could study what he wants within that curriculum. I'm always afraid. Afraid he isn't learning what he should be learning. Afraid we aren't doing enough. Afraid.

I still plan to have him follow those basic subjects, but my outlook on this is completely changed. I believe what I will do is let him go. I'll let him find what he wants to learn and see what happens.  And if he isn't learning some of the things in the curriculum, I'll address that with him and we can come up with a plan on how he can learn those things, too.

I'm excited to watch it unfold.

Learning to Give

My child is spoiled. I admit it. He has so much stuff, so many Legos, so many action figures, Hot Wheels, books, electronics, you name it, he probably has it.

A lot of these things were given to him as gifts, but he has bought some of those things with his own money, and he has to work for his allowance. He has to keep his room in order, and he has to take care of the chickens and the cats and fill the wood box for our wood stove. If he wants extra money, he has to do an hour of extra work, such as chopping wood or something like that to help us as a family.

While he is aware that he has a lot of stuff, he is also thankful for it. He tends to always want one more thing, which worries me a bit, but he knows I won't just run out and buy it. He has to wait until he has saved up enough money for it.

When he was younger he wasn't a cheerful giver. I wrestled with how to address it, but being a Montessorian, I decided to let him come to it on his own. I could have forced him to give, but I knew that would not get the result I wanted. I wanted him to love to give, not because I told him to do it.

And it worked. When he was about 7 or 8, we packed a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child. We just did one box, and I let him choose things for that box. He carried it into the collection site, and was so excited to be giving treasures to a little child who probably had nothing at all.

The next couple of years we weren't able to participate. Last year something happened, which I can't remember, and we couldn't deliver the box. The year before that it snowed and the roads were so bad we couldn't get out of our driveway to deliver the box.

This year we had that box, which was packed and ready to go, and we added two more. We delivered them on the last collection day in our area.

All year long we've been collecting things for those boxes. Almost every time he got a happy meal he saved the toy for the box. If Lilly tried to open it before we could get it out of the car, he promptly told her to put it back, that it was for a child who had no toys.

Today his attitude was not as I hoped it would be. He packed the boxes, and was happy to do it, but on the way to the drop off site he seemed a bit cynical. He is sometimes influenced by others around him, and he spent the weekend away. I know he is approaching those years when the influence will be even stronger, and it seems to me there are a lot of negative and cynical kids out there. (I dread this stage so much, and I pray for patience as he approaches his teen years.)

He asked where the boxes will go, and I told him I am not sure, but our labels have tracking numbers on them. On the way home I told him about my friend, Karen, who participated in delivery of shoeboxes. He was quiet for a while. Then he asked how he could do that, and whether he would be allowed to help deliver the boxes.

I'm going to look into it. I think it would be an amazing experience for him.

We also talked about saving $1 a week to purchase gifts next year. I had him do some math to figure out how much money he makes in one year, and how many dollars he would have if he saved $1 a week.

Next year he will be able to purchase some of the items for the boxes with his own money.

Even if we can't help deliver OCC boxes, which I hear is a very coveted volunteer job, I will find a way to do something similar in our own community.

Friday, December 13, 2013

DNA, NOAA, and more science

I'm a doer, and a person who loves to have experiences. I grew up in a small town, far away from anything cultural. When I got to college I made sure that I experienced as much of the arts and other activities and resources that I could.

It included taking my small children to campus productions, and even driving an hour to another state to see a play that I was certain would be great. "The Importance of Being Earnest" has remained one of my favs.

Now I live in an area that offers so much that I have difficult decisions to make, because we just can't do it all. If I could I would be a member of every museum and go to every production at the local play houses.

But we can't. And so this year we chose to become members of the Pacific Science Center, and we'll throw in a play or production throughout the year as well.

Because we paid for the membership I want to go as often as possible to PSC. Visiting Scientists is the reason I bought it. I knew that would make it worth our while to drive there once a month, at least.

On Saturday we took off for Seattle. We missed the last one, so I wanted to be sure we got to this one. Six tables were set up with different demonstrations. There was a morning session and afternoon session. We got there just as the afternoon presenters were setting up.

This event is so much fun, and so fascinating for me. I take Sean because he loves science, and I want him to have as much extra instruction as possible. But, really, I love it, too!!
This was the exercise in finding pattern differences in DNA to
determine which strands respond to antibiotics. He really enjoyed
this activity.

The hands-on presentations included: DNA wrapping, NOAA scientist who explained the process of testing the atmosphere and water for pollutants world-wide, one who studies DNA and why some bacteria don't respond to antibiotics, testing for water levels in snow, type fonts and which ones are easier to read, and how children learn to read, and a scientist who is studying calorie restriction and the effects on aging.

It was all great fun to me, and Sean enjoyed all of it. He talked with each scientist and participated in each activity they offered to illustrate their studies. We spent about three hours there.

I want to go back soon so he can experience some other areas of the museum. It's huge, and when we do these Visiting Scientist days we don't have time to do much else.

We know how lucky we are to have such a great resource so close to us.
Thank you PSC!! We LOVE it!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Camp Seymour Homeschool Day: Glen Cove estuary and sea life

I know I've written about this before, but the Homeschool Friday programs at Camp Seymour really are so much fun.

This month the kids were learning about the water and sea life in the estuary at Glen Cove. It was a relief to me that we would be spending the day inside. We've had freezing cold temps here lately, and we usually spend all of our time outside during these homeschool programs.

The instruction was great, as usual, and the children were able to touch the sea creatures in the touch tank, if they wished. A microscope with a camera projected onto a screen, and we were able to watch as a barnacle reached out its little foot to feed. It looked like a fan of tiny feathers.

We were told about how the sea stars eat. They basically throw their guts out and digest the food and then suck it in. Kind of gross, but still interesting. And we were able to see one doing it.

All of the sea life in the touch tank are animals that live in our Puget Sound, and we could see in the waters around where we live.

I can't begin to express how blessed we feel to live so close to this amazing program, and that it is available at all to homeschoolers. It definitely is a wonderful supplement to our at-home instruction!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Things I love about Homeschool: Lunch

Lunch. It seems like such a small thing, but it became really huge for us.

I hate the cattle drive of lunch at the public schools. It's chaos. It's loud, and such a negative environment. For me, part of good nutrition is having a relaxed mealtime. Some quiet conversation is healthy, and I think quiet promotes digestion and I believe Sean eats more when he is sitting quietly at a table.

I have heard stories of kids being served chocolate cookies for breakfast at school, and corn chips with cheese sauce for lunch. I don't remember the lunch menus from his years at public school, but to him the public school lunches were atrocious.  I always packed his lunch. It was difficult to keep a hot meal hot, though, even with a thermos, so he usually had a cold sandwich, or fruit with peanut butter, yogurt, and some kind of crackers.

When Sean was at the private school they ate in their classrooms, at tables for two. They rotated friends, but I don't remember how often. But it was quiet. They had quiet conversation, and it was part of the grace and courtesy curriculum to learn how to eat at a table and use good table manners.
I really miss him having the experience of a quiet meal with peers.

But being home has an advantage.
I can prepare a fresh, hot meal for him. I know that he is eating it, and that what he is eating is nutritious.
Lunch at home is so much better than lunch in a large room with high ceilings, packed with 60 or more yelling kids, where the noise is almost unbearable, and there is a strict time limit on eating.

It was one of my main frustrations while he was in public school.
I believe his entire third grade year he never touched a bite of his lunch. He always said he didn't have enough time.
I know that from the view of the teachers and paras there was plenty of time. And for the kids who are big eaters, there was time. But for my kid, who is so effected by noise and chaos, and time limits, there was never enough time.

Now there is plenty of time, and no limit. He eats until he is full.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Research takes a turn, and it's a beautiful thing

I've been feeling like we're falling "behind" in a way. We are behind according to my lesson plan schedule, which only means just that.

We took a week off for our Disney World vacation. Then we took off a few days for Thanksgiving. (There was no way I could do any prep for homeschool and prep in the kitchen for hosting 12 guests.)

I was ready to dive back into homeschool yesterday and pound it out, but Sean got sick and spent yesterday lounging until his math instructor arrived.

So today I was determined to get him back in the groove of work plans, materials, and pencils and paper. But he slept most of the day again, and I wasn't feeling well either.

When he finally got up I went over the schedule for the week with him and said since he has chosen Thursday as our science day he needed to do some research ahead of time. I wanted him to look up information on Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. He was free to use the computer today because we couldn't get to the library, since we were both not feeling well.

I've found some wonderful science projects for him to choose from, but before we begin those I want him to understand the science behind them. I've got nine science projects printed off and they include some work on friction and gravity, and how light travels.

He pulled out his note cards and was getting information about Isaac Newton, then something happened and he left the room. I was busy looking through photos of our trip to Florida. He came over and spotted a picture of a spider that we took at Disney World. As we were walking along one of the bridges he spied it on its web suspended between two tall bushes. I almost couldn't see it. He wanted a picture of it so bad, but it wasn't showing up well in the picture until I positioned the camera so that the background was the sky. We both had worked hard to get a good picture of it.  It was different than any spiders we have seen here, and had spikes on it's back.

That picture sparked his interest and he wanted to try to find out what kind of spider it is. And that led to another page with a different spider called a Yellow Sac Spider. He decided he wanted to do a report on venomous spiders. He worked for quite some time writing down all of the information about the Yellow Sac Spider on his note cards, and presented his information to Chuck when he arrived home from work.

As he was doing his research, he was reading some of it out loud to me. He came across the words necrotic lesion. I asked what does that mean? Sounding as genuine as possible. He gave a guess, and I said can you click on the magnifying glass in the corner of the screen and type in dictionary. Then type in that word for me, necrotic. He did it, and read off what it said. Then on his own he typed in lesion. And he put those meanings together and realized that would be one horrible spider bite. (On top of that it is associated with MRSA.)

It turns out we have those spiders in the Pacific Northwest.

So, although he didn't get the Isaac Newton work finished today, I decided to follow the child, and let him work on something that has been his passion for a long time. He does love arachnids. I was reminded of how engrossed in his work he will get when it is something he has chosen.

This work gave him some new vocabulary words, and he practiced writing a report and presenting it.

But we will get to Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. I just have to find a way to get him to choose the work.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Start with Art: Amate Cut Paper

Sean has hit a real sensitive period for art. I don't know about other kids, but he has loved it for years, and seemed to become really compelled to draw when he was nine.

He draws on his own each day. His work plan always includes art, and I allow him to work on art for as long as he desires, as long as he is also completing other work on his plan. He is usually content to draw for 30 minutes to an hour, but rarely more than that.

While I am fine with him doing his own thing, I decided that he could benefit from some different art experience.  I pulled out a gift that I gave him for Christmas last year that we had never used. It's an art canister with instructions on how to create Amate art. It comes with papers, glue stick, scissors, everything you need to create these wonderful images.

It was our first time, so I wasn't very good at instructing, but we figured it out on our own and learned from a couple of mistakes.

Amate art is a Mexican artform. It is usually done with bark, but we used brown paper that looks kind of like bark. Our instructions called for making a mirror image. We folded the paper in half, drew half of our image and cut it out. When it was unfolded, a mirror image was created.

We made some mistakes, and that is how we learn.

The next one will be better, I'm sure.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Things I Love About Homeschool


I love that I don't have to call in to report Sean absent when he is sick. We just carry on with our day and keep it low key, or he can stay in bed if needed. I don't have to worry that he is going to have extra homework, or makeup work.

It's such a blessing that we don't have to jump through a lot of hoops in order to go on a family vacation.

We decided about a month ago that we wanted to take the kids to Orlando, Florida to visit Disney World. It was so nice to make that decision for our family on our own without any hesitation.

Neither of the kids had ever been. They are both getting older and Chuck and I figured this was the year to do it. They're old enough to remember it, old enough to walk long distances, but not too old to enjoy it the park and all it has to offer.

Our summers are a balmy 75-80 degrees with about 50 percent humidity, and a cool breeze off the water. Visions of standing in long lines for rides in humid, 90-degree weather in Florida got us thinking we should do a visit in the off season.

No special paperwork to fill out for being absent from school, no asking for permission, we just decided to go. We planned our trip, and we had a great time. Upon our return I didn't have to worry about makeup homework, or some sort of special report in return for the permission granted to us to be gone for a week.

And the trip was full of practical life lessons.
For instance:
How to pack what you need for a fun-filled week of vacation in a different climate.
How to navigate an airport.
How to plan for activities.
There were also some social interaction lessons. Sean met new people at the hotel pool. He had to exercise patience as we waited in long lines to enter and exit Disney World.

On top of that, he learned how to voice his feelings about certain amusement park rides, and how to ask the people who work there what to expect if he decided to ride. He also got to use his own judgement about which rides he believed he would enjoy, and which ones he knew he could not handle.

And he stretched himself a bit on a couple of rides. He talked it through with me, and on a couple of occasions decided the ride could be a bit scary, but he wanted to go ahead and try it anyway.

I love that we have the freedom to take a family vacation whenever we want to, and whenever it is best for our family. Having that freedom made it a truly enjoyable vacation for me, because I wasn't stressed out about him being absent from school.
It was so much fun, and it turned out to be a trip filled with teaching moments.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Reptiles are so much fun

This week we visited Camp Seymour for a day of reptiles and archery.

He truly loves these things. He'd sleep with them if I'd let him.
I've written about these homeschool group days before, and this is our third time going. It never disappoints. Camp Seymour hosts these instructional days for local homeschoolers, for a nominal fee.

For some reason it is always colder at Camp Seymour than it is at our house. Maybe because the camp is so close to the water. And the wind was blowing, and I think the temp got to about 44 degrees F.

I was very happy to go inside the reptile house and stay warm for a while.

There were a lot of snakes, a couple of turtles, a skink, and a bearded dragon. Sean was in heaven. It was really cool. These creatures just aren't what you typically get to interact with out in the world. He held everything at least once.

Matt and Amelia, our instructors, started with the information about what makes a reptile a reptile, and explained the four characteristics: They are cold blooded, they hatch from eggs, they have scales, and bones.  Once the kids had all of that info, Matt pulled out the poster that listed all of the rules. The kids read the rules out loud, and Matt and Amelia explained why it was so important to follow each rule.

There were probably 20 kids, at least. It was a full room.

I connected with a new homeschooling mom and had a nice chat, and I also connected with one of my friends from Geiger. We sat at the same lunch table and had a nice time talking, and Sean and her son sat together, along with Sean's new friend Olivia.

Archery was fun, but I was miserably cold. I was so happy that Sean was ready to go once he had finished shooting. They offered everyone to get back in line and do it again, but he was done.
My little archer. It's in his DNA, but he is
a really good shot.
Sean is already skilled at archery because he got a compound bow for his birthday, and we visit the range weekly.

I feel so blessed to live in an area that supports homeschoolers, and offers such great programs.
Thank you, as always, Camp Seymour! Your staff members who work with our homeschooled children and their parents are amazing!

Friday, November 15, 2013

My biggest struggle

I wrote this post when we were first starting the homeschool year. Since that time things have changed, and I'll post about that next, but I wanted to post this in case this could help other homeschooling parents to realize they are not alone in some of the frustrating days.

Patience. And letting go of my own agenda. I struggle with them daily. I start out thinking I will let go and allow Sean to just move through his day on his own, working at his own pace. But I inevitably cave in to my fears and start directing him to do work.

I'm typically a take-charge person when taking charge is needed. If someone else is already in the position of leading, I gladly follow.

I've been a Montessori mom for eight years now, and I've loved learning about the philosophy and how to present materials.

We have a shelf devoted to our materials, and I lovingly gaze at them and long for the days when Sean would excitedly use them.

Those days are gone, and I realize that as children approach Upper El they are more interested in abstract learning. I get that.

I also know that as a Montessorian I am to trust the child, follow the child, and prepare the environment. Since there are few materials being used now with our Upper El homeschool, that part is reduced somewhat. I try to prepare myself, and guide him to prepare for his day.

But when he wanders around aimlessly, not working on anything, I'm not sure if I can really hold it together. Can I follow (metaphorically, not physically) him wandering around aimlessly? Am I supposed to nag and cajole and threaten to take away privileges if he doesn't complete a work plan? Am I supposed to trust that he is learning in spite of not doing what I consider "school" work?

Some days I'm totally on board with following. I feel in my heart that he will naturally take off on learning and ask me for information and trips to the library.

But on days like today I fear he will just be a bum, wandering around aimlessly, not completing work, and ultimately not succeeding in life.

And really, it all comes down to fear. Fear that I will be judged if he doesn't learn what we have on our curriculum plan; that he will be "behind" if I have to put him back in school. (But may I just say that he is "behind" according to the testing that was administered last year, and he has been in a school setting for the past three years.)

This child is an opposite of me. I am a list person. I make a list and I check things off. Chuck is also that way. So we struggle because we don't understand his way of doing things: haphazard, no plan in place, things strewn around and out of order. This child who has only ever been in a Montessori setting is so NOT Montessori in some ways that I can hardly believe it.

He will quickly organize things if I ask him to do it, but he is not naturally that way.

So I argue with myself. Should I direct him, or should I allow him to wander around and come to it on his own? Some days I can allow him to wander. Some days I start to get anxious and find myself directing. We're still finding our way here in this homeschooling Montessori journey.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Verb tense work, a matching game

The other day we worked with a free download that I got from Montessori For Everyone called Verb Tenses Beginning. I wanted to start simple to see where he needs to work, and what we can breeze on past.

This exercise includes simple phrases that I printed onto card stock and cut out for him to place in the correct column. The columns are labeled Simple Present, Simple Past, Future.

He did well with that exercise, and it helped me see where he struggles. There are some tricky words that get confusing for him. I think they are a bit confusing for some grownups I know. And I've had to stop and think on some of them sometimes as well.

One of them is cost.

So if we are talking about something in the present tense, i.e. it is happening now, we say,
"This item costs $5."
If we are talking about something we just bought, or bought yesterday, etc. something in the past, we say,
"This item cost $5."

If we are talking about the future, we say,
"This item will cost $5."

I'm not sure if the word eat is always a troublesome one for  him. He seemed a bit distracted today, so I can't be certain, but it caused him problems.
I have a feeling some of those words that completely change form in the past tense are a trouble spot.

Eat gets changed to ate when we are talking about the past.
And it can change totally when we talk about the future.
She will have eaten 500 calories if she finishes that pie.

So these verb tense activities will be our language work for a while. I downloaded the Verb Tenses Advanced and plan to introduce that as soon as I'm confident he understands these tricky words.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Montessori Grammar Symbols and sentence analysis

Sean was in first grade when I first decided to homeschool. When I had a spare moment I was researching and reading everything I could possibly find about Montessori philosophy and materials.

I watched videos of Margaret Homfay lectures and presentation of materials (which BTW, I can't seem to find anymore.)  I read books and blogs, and I looked at catalogs and spent hours reading emails through the Yahoo Montessori homeschool group. Those were as helpful to me to prepare for homeschooling as all of the other sources of information.

Although I know in my heart that Montessori can be done without any of the formal materials, and that the important part of Montessori is embracing the philosophy of trusting and following the child, those materials are so very cool.

I've always loved all of the materials. For me, the grammar symbols are very intriguing.
I'm a word person. I've spent most of my life writing, and the idea that words could have their own symbols was just exciting to me. If you don't have a copy of the symbols, you can find them here.
(There are other Internet sites out there that show the symbol chart. I just chose this one at random.)

I bought the set of wood, painted grammar symbols when Sean was in first grade. Back then we used the basics, the noun and verb symbols.

Now that he is an Upper El student we are going to be using them again, and by the time we get through the third year of Upper El we will have covered all of the symbols in the chart.

The way we use them now is not so concrete. He still has them in a basket on his shelf, but we also have a copy of them on paper, and he prefers to draw, so he has created his own symbol chart in his language composition book. I bring the basket out once in a while just so he gets that spark of memory from using them before.

Our language activities these days start with brainstorming ideas for a subject he would like to write about. Once he decides on a topic, I have him give me short sentences or words about the topic and I write those on a white board. Once he has exhausted his information about the topic, he looks at the white board and decides which of those words or short sentences should be in his beginning sentence.
He goes through each one until he has crafted a paragraph, or sometimes many paragraphs.

Then he goes through each sentence and labels the words with the symbols. Sometimes he likes to draw the symbol above the word, other times he uses a marker or crayon the color of the symbol to circle, square, rectangle, etc. around the words and makes his own chart in a way by doing that.

I love when he does that because it shows me he has taken what he has learned and used it in his own unique way, which solidifies the knowledge.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

People want verbs. Who knew?

Since posting last week about some of our Upper El grammar activity I have received a ton of traffic. The title of that post included the word verb, so I don't know if people are searching for help with verbs, or maybe it was a fluke that so many people looked at that post.

I decided that it could be a good idea to post some more of our grammar work here.

Today I'll start where I started with Sean, just so I could see where we should begin with grammar instruction.

What is a noun? A noun is a person, place or thing.

What is a verb? A verb is an action word. It is a word in a sentence that tells us what the subject (noun) of the sentence is doing.
Example: The boy ran.
Boy is the noun. Ran is the verb.
Another Example:
Bella, the dog, barked at the mailman.
Bella is the subject. The word dog is also a noun. Barked is the verb, because that is the action Bella was doing.

The, An and A are all called articles.
Although it seems to be losing ground in current writing, An is supposed to be used in front of a word that begins with a vowel, or begins with a vowel SOUND. So if you are writing a sentence using a word like X-ray, you still use an before it.
Tony ate an apple this morning.
Apple begins with the letter a, which is a vowel.
Another Example, but using A, instead of An:
Tony ate a peach this morning.
Peach starts with a P, which is a consonant.
Another Example with the vowel SOUND:
Hugh had to go to the doctor yesterday for an X-ray of his right foot.
Even though X-ray doesn't begin with a vowel, it begins with the short e sound.
Another with the vowel SOUND:
Tony ate an M&M.
Even though M is not a vowel, when we say M it also begins with the short e sound.

What is an adjective? An adjective describes the noun. It gives a sentence interest and variety. I love adjectives because they help me to describe more of what I want my reader to see.
Bella, the brown dog, barked at the mailman.
Using the word brown helps us imagine the dog a little more clearly.
Example: The tall boy ran.
By using the word tall we have a better vision of what this boy looks like.

What is an adverb? An adverb describes the verb. It often ends in ly, but not always.
Bella, the brown dog, barked wildly at the mailman.
Wildly is the adverb. It describes how Bella barked.
Another Example: 
The small boy ran fast down the street.
Fast is an adverb, it is describing the verb, ran.

You can also use adverbs to denote time.
Bella, the brown dog, barked wildly at the mailman today.
The word today tells us when she barked, and it is still describing the verb. So in this sentence we have used two adverbs-- wildly, and today.

Next Post: Using Montessori Grammar Symbols

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Recording History: A Precious Source

Technically we are supposed to be following a curriculum that has Sean studying history from 1,000 A.D. through 1865, but I'm not so sure that he got what I wanted him to have for fourth grade. For fourth grade the students who use this curriculum study ancient civilization to 1,000 A.D.

In public school there was a lot of focus on state history and geography. There was some ancient civilization info in there, too.

Last year I know he studied Mayan culture, and the history of writing, but we are starting with the fourth grade ancient civilization stuff just to be sure he has covered ancient civilizations thoroughly.

I bought a book online, Passage of Time, that is pretty good, however I didn't realize it was going to be focused on India. I'm using it in conjunction with some other sources. I'm using it as a guide, and then we are jumping into it deeper as we go.

I do love that it starts with ancient civilization and works through to modern times.

We started by talking about the tools that historians use to gather information. One of those tools is oral history. To illustrate how a historian might gather information about a time they don't know much about, I suggested to Sean that he think of some questions to ask my grandmother, who is 91.

Now let me just take a moment to explain that my grandma is awesome. She is still driving, still living on her own without assistance, and is just amazing.

I gave Sean an idea of the timeframe she was born in, then I asked him what his earliest memory was, and how old he thought he was in that memory. He said he was two years old. So I told him grandma might be able to remember back to something that happened when she was two or three, and that would mean it was sometime in the 1920s. (At that moment I wasn't certain of the year she was born.)

He seemed in awe of that, and started brainstorming the questions he would have for her.
He wrote down several that were to do with where she grew up, what kind of house she lived in, what the cars were like then, and what it was like during WWII.

Once we were at her house, he set up his video camera and got to work. He did such a great job. He thought of other questions while he was interviewing her, and I suggested a few while we were there, too.

He captured great footage of her talking a little bit about her early childhood, and she had great information about how everything was rationed, about how the Japanese were taken to Internment Camps, and how scarce goods were during the Great Depression.

This was a fun, yet very meaningful, history project. Someday I know he will realize how fortunate he was to have done this one.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Where should you place that verb?

I was really not sure how much grammar and sentence structure Sean had covered in the past three years. He can write sentences, and he is great at explaining things, but we started at the beginning so I could get a sense of how much he already knows.

We started with basic 'what is a noun?' type of instruction.

He was quite bored, really. Frustrated with me for going over things he already knows. So I said, Ok, we can move forward, tell me what a verb is, tell me what an adjective is, and make a list of those.

Once that was done, we started writing a bit. I realized he could use some basics on how a sentence is structured. He tends to keep his sentences really short and simple. I've started to try to get him to use some adjectives, especially those, and some adverbs.

I think we can tackle that in different ways, and with his engineering kind of brain, I thought he might really enjoy diagraming sentences.

I introduced that today after we talked about adverbs.

I found this site online. I steer away from screen time, and do not encourage doing school work online. That is a big reason we are not doing any online curriculum.
I'm actually against it in general, but I decided this was sort of fun, and might get him started on diagraming and spark an interest.

The site takes you through a tutorial on how a sentence is diagramed, and starts with simple three-word sentences. Then it moves to more complex sentences, but not what I would call high-level grammar. The user clicks on words and moves them to the correct position on the horiaontal line, and clicks on the vertical and slanted lines to move them into the correct positions. There is only so much you can do with this site, so I'm hoping he will begin to do it on paper.

He pretty much breezed through it. I hope it gave him confidence and that he will begin to understand more about crafting a good sentence.

If he has language on his work plan tomorrow, I'll introduce this on paper.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Family Camp and Fungi

Sean did great at the climbing wall! All the
way to the top.
Wood lovers. These mushrooms were growing on a fence post
along with the soft, green moss.

Sometimes I wish I had continued homeschooling instead of
sending Sean to school. Like last week, when we went to Camp Seymour for the homeschooling family camp night. It was a lot of fun, and I'm afraid he might be aging out of that activity. I think it is only through age 12, which only gives us one more year.

On Thursday we arrived in the afternoon to get settled into our cabin and do some evening activities. We were so happy that Chuck was off work and wanted to go with us. It was raining when we got there, but we were dressed for it. I had purchased a new rain jacket the day before. So glad I did.

I wasn't sure what to expect, since we had never done family camp before. All of the other families had been there for it last year, and buddied up in cabins. The three of us had a cabin to ourselves. I, for one, was relieved. I told a friend of mine, "I'm a grown-ass woman. I don't need to be bunking with strangers."

So we got settled into our cabin, which was pretty great. There were 12 bunks, and the cabin was heated and quite comfortable.  Chuck ran out to the store to get a few "camp" snacks for us. We had dinner in the dining hall, and got used to the system there. Only three people can be up from the table at a time. One person is what I would call a runner, but they had another name for it. They basically go get the food and then take the tray back to the kitchen.

After dinner there was a short time to hang out in the cabin, and then it was time for the camp fire songs and skits. Once it was good and dark our leaders, Matt and Amelia, took us on a night hike to see nocturnal animals. A little trip to the beach provided a fascinating sight. We were able to see the plankton that light up. They light up when predators are near so that the predator can see other, bigger prey and leave them alone. Matt dipped an oar into the water and spun it like a propeller to get them to light up. It was really amazing. Wish I could have gotten a picture.

We didn't see any other night animals, but Matt showed us how to light up our mouths in the dark with wintergreen lifesavers. He told a tale about a meteor and that he had a piece of it and would show us how it lit up in his mouth. Then confessed that the whole meteor story wasn't true, and we could all do the same thing with a lifesaver.

Next morning Chuck was up super early and off to work. Sean and I almost completely missed breakfast because we just aren't early risers. After breakfast we had to get everything out of the cabin and check out. This took a while because it was just the two of us, and we had to carry all of our gear. We made two trips, then we were supposed to clean the cabin.

After check-out we met the rest of the homeschoolers who were arriving for the fungi instruction and afternoon activities. Then it was time for lunch.

Lunch was delicious pizza, and our table really put it away. I was the only adult at the table, which was just fine with me. I had a good time talking to the kids.

The kids did the climbing wall, and Sean shimmied up that wall like Spider Man.

By the time we were on the fungi hike I was exhausted, but I tried to persevere. It was a long hike and I was so cold and tired. The kids were really into it. They were spotting mushrooms everywhere, of all colors, shapes and sizes. And Matt, our fungi leader, was helping to identify some of them.

Sean recognized some that we also have on our property. It is Fungi Season here.

Thanks Camp Seymour! We had a great time and hope to do it again next year.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Unconventional instruction: Noun

Sean has studied the parts of speech before, but I thought it was a good idea to start with a brief history of language, then dive into the parts of speech, and continue from there with writing exercises.

A couple of weeks ago I was talking about nouns, and gave him a little information on the beginning of human language and how people began to give things in their lives names: house, tree, plant, flower, food, deer, etc. He listened quietly.

Then I asked him to bring out his language book. We are working from composition books because the pages stay in them, and it makes for less papers everywhere. We do have some loose papers that he keeps in a binder with tabs, but mostly he uses composition books for his works.

I haven't studied what Maria had to say about the 9-12 year olds, and whether she observed any sensitive periods for art, but I do. Sean has always enjoyed art, but when he turned nine he began to draw all the time. And he continued to draw and loved it so much that it became somewhat of a "problem" at school. His art has evolved as he has matured, and he draws characters from cartoons and does them really well. Some of them look exactly like the characters and you would think they were drawn by the artist who created them.

Because he loves to draw, I can spark his interest in a subject by having him create a drawing. I try to incorporate it into every subject we do. He also loves to invent things. He doesn't hate language arts, but it did seem kind of dry and I was trying to find a way to spice it up.

To illustrate the noun story I had him invent something and draw it. I told him he could invent anything in the world he would like. It didn't have to make sense, and there were no rules around this activity. It just had to be something he would like to invent, and as far as we knew, it couldn't already exist. And I needed him to draw it.

And once he did that, I told him it now had to have a name, and he couldn't use a name that already existed.

Then I told him that if he had actually invented this product, he would have just added another noun to the world.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Oh, What a Wonderful Day

I'm a doer, so when we get a lot accomplished in a day it makes me feel really good.

Today Sean was able to fill out a work plan and work through each task to completion. For those of you who have children who do this naturally, hats off to you! Please, please, know that you are blessed. It took us a few weeks to get to this point.

He is not a person who can start working first thing in the morning, so we structure our day with outside time first, then we come in and work.
We start each day with taking care of our environment, and our pets. He feeds all of the animals, and plays with the dog and loves to pet the chickens. Today was another laundry day. We usually do it on Mondays, but we didn't get all of it finished yesterday.

When we first started on this homeschool journey last month, he would do work, then write down what he did in his work plan. I realized it was not really a great way to set a goal and work toward it. It was more like, do some stuff, then record what I did.

A couple of weeks into school I had him change that pattern. Now he writes his own work plan, and completes what is on it. He has started out slowly. He usually completes three works. I've decided that we will add on work as the year goes. Not that I will tell him to add anything, but I'll do a lesson in something that he hasn't written on his plan yet.

Today he did FOUR works, plus all of those chores of feeding the cats, the dog, and taking care of the chickens, and doing his own laundry.

The one thing I added today was writing. We are beginning to study the structure of a paragraph, so I told him he could write about anything at all that he wanted to write about. That would be our topic.
He chose the new game he is getting in a couple of weeks.

I asked him to tell me what he knows about that game, and as he told me, I wrote it on our small white board. I numbered each sentence. Then he chose which sentence should be first. I told him to imagine he was writing this for his great-grandma, who is 92. She has never played a video game in her life, and knows nothing about them.

He did a great job of choosing the sentences so that they flowed in a nice order.

This exercise was to get him used to brainstorming, and also to help him feel successful.  It took a long time, probably almost an hour. And he felt really great about his work, and made a comment afterward that he worked really hard on it, and he would be upset if that paper somehow got ruined.

He also said they never had time to do that last year. He said they had about 30 minutes to write two paragraphs, and he always felt he didn't have enough time to do it.

I think we'll do this many more times, before I have him start revising and rewriting.

It was such a great day!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Book Clubbin' with Olivia and Ivan

A few weeks ago when I encouraged Sean to read he said it just wasn't as much fun without more people. At school they had small groups reading books together as a book club, so I suggested forming a book club with his new friend Olivia.

Olivia also asked a couple of her friends to join, and the four of them started reading "The One and Only Ivan," by Katherine Applegate. This book is based on a real life gorilla named Ivan who lived at one of our local malls, called the B&I, in Tacoma.

I saw Ivan in the 1980s when I was here visiting my family. I remember feeling so very sad for him, and he looked very lonely to me. I was on the verge of tears as I left that day, wishing there was something I could do to rescue him from there and put him back where he belonged.

A few years later a group of locals did do something and he was moved to the Atlanta Zoo, where he lived to be very old, and died last August. He lived at the B&I for almost 30 years before being moved to the zoo. The story is a sad one, and you can read more about it here.

So when I heard on NPR a few months ago that someone had written a book about him, and that it was for young readers, I was pretty excited. I found the book at Costco in August.

It seemed a natural choice for the book club.

The four kids met today at Olivia's house to discuss the book, but I'm not sure how much discussion there was. They were just getting to know each other, and there was a lot of laughter. (It was so nice of her mom to host the club at their home.)

They did book discussion and ate a snack, then moved to another room to do some knitting, and eventually went outside to play.

Although they are using different curricula than we are, and they are all girls, Sean hit it off with them and seems to really enjoy time with Olivia. They have similar interests, and similar personalities, and I hope to get him involved in a couple of other activities with her.

It was great for both me and Sean. While he was with friends, I was able to have some adult conversation and listen to the other moms talk about the ups and downs of homeschooling. It was good to hear how others feel, and know that I am not alone in some of the struggles.

As we were ready to leave I reminded Sean to tell them goodbye, and Olivia gave him a hug. She is such a sweet girl.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Testing, testing, A, B, FAIL

I posted this yesterday, but for some reason it disappeared and I am reposting it today.

I realize that I am preaching to the choir with this post, since almost everyone who looks at this blog is a Montessorian. On the outside chance that a non-Montessorian will see this post, let me write a disclaimer: You might be offended by the content of this post. And whether you are offended, are a Montessorian or not, I'd love to have your comments on this subject.

I was following a conversation of public school teachers the other day, and by public I mean traditional public school. I clarify because Sean attended a public school for a few years, but it was a public Montessori school. There is a difference.

So I was following this conversation, and a teacher was saying that this year has gotten off to a rough start. She feels overwhelmed with everything she is required to do, and does not feel supported. On top of this, when she announced that they would be having a test, her students asked if there would be a re-take.

The reaction of the others in this conversation was indignant. "Re-take? Why with that logic I could have been a straight A student," was one response.

Now let me make myself very clear. I feel for this teacher in so many ways. I am absolutely certain that she is overwhelmed, that the demands on her are probably unrealistic, and that she lacks the support she needs. Whether that support is monetary or emotional, or just plain administrative support, there is not enough of it in the public system.

However, when I saw her frustration with the re-take question, and then the responses by others in this conversation, (I was an observer, not included in this conversation) I had to wonder if they realized how mired they are in a system that is turning out people who don't really know much.

I'm one of them.

So it got me thinking about the way the public schools operate. They get a mandate of what the kids in any given grade need to know, and that is what they are supposed to teach, and they have to get it all done in 10 months. And every kid is supposed to know all of it in 10 months. Well, not really. They just need to know it long enough to take a test and make their grade.

And if they don't know it? F. Fail. Failure. No A for you little missy. And the consensus seems to be that students don't deserve a re-take.

But if we truly want them to learn the things we are teaching, shouldn't we allow them to work with the information for as long as they need in order to learn it? I don't mean goof off and not pay attention, I mean WORK with the information.

And what if we gave them several "tests" that looked more like ways to explore the information they were just given? What if they were allowed to really dive into it and we took THESE "tests" as the real measure of whether they are learning it?

And for those who aren't learning it, what if we had the kids who were excited about the subject partner and work with those kids to come up with more ways to explore the information so that they also were learning it?

Shouldn't we want them to learn what they are being taught, and therefore, all of them master the concepts and understand it?

It seems the whole goal of school is to give the information so the students can take a test.
What if they were given the time and opportunity to actually do well? But it does seem as if the schools are set up to produce workers who follow rules, guidelines and systems.

I was talking to a friend of mine about a similar subject and we agreed that we were taught to a test, and also we have encountered so many people who have what seem like good jobs, who are clueless about how to think things through and come to a sensible conclusion, or take information and extrapolate to use it in different ways.

Teachers are stressed out. They don't have the time they need to do the job they are skilled at doing. That stress is transferred to the students. And just as the teachers have lives when they walk out the door of the school, so do these students.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Impromptu Art Tour

As we drove home from an appointment this morning, I was going over all the things we had to catch up on. We hadn't done our normal morning routine, so Sean had not read yet, and I hoped to go over a little more information on the Archean time and see if he wanted to dive deeper into cyanobacteria and do some research on that.

But I kept seeing signs along the road that said "Open Studio Art Tour." I abandoned my worrying about the "school" work and followed the signs. So glad we did it. Sean was able to look at some clay work, talk to the artist, and tour her studio. It was a small shed, but she was so great to take us around and show us where she threw clay, explain to us the type of clay she uses (paper clay) and show us her kilns. She shared loads of information with us, and we enjoyed looking at her art.
The big kiln. She was demonstrating the pins that
she places inside that indicate when the kiln is at
just the right temperature.

Once we were home Sean decided he wanted to do math. We've come up with a game using a deck of cards. I shuffle them, pull the top card, and then we do either addition, subtraction or multiplication with them. We've been doing it every day this week.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Just keepin' it real, folks

Yesterday was an off day. It was a Monday, first off, and secondly Sean was home from a weekend with his dad. That Monday after being at his dad's is always a little difficult. The schedule is different and he really doesn't do well transitioning back and forth with a different schedule, but he's doing better than he used to.

He woke up late. We ate breakfast late, and the chickens got fed late, and then he was slow to get started on any kind of school work. He wouldn't participate in Read to Self, and said he hates reading. I let it go, and encouraged him to come do some handwork while I read to him, but he didn't want to do that either.

I decided that instead of forcing something, I'd just let it be an off day. If I force it he isn't going to absorb it anyway. We all have off days, and I know that all kids have those in regular school as well. Some days we just can't focus on formal learning.

We had an appointment at 1 p.m., and the only thing we got accomplished was a timed math sheet. But that only served to create anxiety and frustration for him. I don't like timed tests either, and he seems to be very negatively affected by them.

So, I mentioned that to the math tutor and I loved his response. He said it's fine to just do it without timing it. Sean can choose whether he wants to do it timed during the week, or if he'd rather practice all week and then do it together with him on Monday. Ahh. Much better.

And really, when I looked back on the day we packed in a lot of educational stuff.

During our outing at 1 p.m. Sean found several spiders that he identified and observed in their webs. He engaged in friendly conversation with the ladies we were with, and explained to them how to construct a costume out of foam. That was an exercise in how to be sociable and use grace and courtesy. He said, "nice to meet you," and was very pleasant once he got acquainted with them.

He accomplished a lot with the math teacher when we were back from our event, doing algebra, fractions, place value and multiplication.
And later in the evening we watched a nature show about grizzly bears. (I gave in and said on Mondays, after he completes school, he can use electronics. He was stoked, because the new episode of his favorite cartoon show on Mondays.)

And after dinner he sat down in the living room and finished a book he had started last week. So he didn't get Read to Self done in the morning, so what. He did it without me saying a word. Much better than forcing it to happen and leaving a negative feeling about reading. He was quite proud that he finished the book. (He already started on a new one today.)

Much later in the evening we had an intense and very long discussion about religion. It was still going when I put him to bed, and we ended on a good note, but we were really late getting settled.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Not a homeschool day, wink, wink

Last week I received a notice from the Pacific Science Center with information on a program with visiting scientists. Local scientists were coming to set up booths and talk about various subjects on Saturday. There were sessions all day long, and we went for the afternoon sessions.

The Pacific Science Center is in Seattle. We have been visiting for many years, even before I lived here. Whenever we vacationed here we would take the kids to the PSC.

It's packed with amazing and fun information. Everything is hands-on, and interactive, and it's as interesting for adults as it is for kids.

I told Sean that we would be going to have a day of fun on Saturday. But in my mind I knew it was going to be something to spark his interest for learning, and to give him a jumping off point to get deep into homeschool this week.

It was beyond what I ever could have imagined.

This boy just needs access to professionals who know a lot about the subjects he is passionate about so he can interview them, ask hard questions, and get real expert answers.

I wanted him to have a good relaxed day of fun, so first we played a little in the touch tank, then went through the dinosaur exhibit and looked at some of the informational plaques there. I finally found out where the science sessions were, and we made our way over to that room.

Tables were set up with displays like you would see at a science fair, and each one was so great. You could go to a table and spend as little or as much time as you wanted. We got lucky, because it wasn't crowded at all while we were there.

Under sea sounds was the first station we visited. The woman there talked about how their fishing boat uses echolocation to find fish. She did a great job of allowing the kids to work with the display and get to the answers on their own.
Observing the ripples made by a drop of water at the
table that illustrated echolocation.
She had a plastic bin (very small kitchen sized) with water in it, and some kind of thick, hard plastic type pieces. One was long, and another was short. Sean took a dropper and dropped one drop of water from it into the plastic bin of water, and she asked him to observe it and tell her what he saw.
He described what he saw, and then she placed the small piece of plastic into the water and asked him to do it again and tell her what he saw.
He loved talking to her and he asked a few questions and made some observations, and also used what he learned there to talk about how it can be used in other ways.

Sean talks to the scientist from Fred Hutchison
about viruses.
We moved over to the bacteria table, and he talked to a lady who is a UW scientist and studies bacteria. She illustrated how bacteria change in order to go undetected by the body, and the way the immune system tries to figure out how to find them. He spent a fair amount of time there.

His final session was his favorite. He spent a FULL HOUR at this table. I couldn't believe it. I was getting really tired, but I didn't want to rush him or interrupt.
This booth was about viruses. The lady (for some reason there were a lot of women scientists, which was AWESOME!!) who was working this booth studies viruses at Fred Hutchison, and she had a color display of the worst viruses as they would look under a microscope.

She also had a diorama that was divided into little rooms, and some different colored styrofoam balls with tiny wood picks sticking out of them. He got to choose what color virus he wanted to be, and then she walked him through how that virus gets into the cell (the little house with the rooms) and what happens when it is inside.

He asked so many questions~questions I would never have thought of, and I have a science degree. He asked what is a vulnerability that a virus might have. He asked a million other questions, and engaged in conversation with her about what happens when the body responds to try to get rid of it. He asked which virus she believed was the worst, and she said HIV, and proceeded to tell us why. HIV makes a copy of your cells' DNA, and then your body cannot ever get rid of that virus.
He said, "So I asked you what made a virus vulnerable, now I'd like to ask what you think is the biggest strength of a virus." She said sneakiness, because they can do so many things to go undetected, and they can essentially go to sleep and just stay in your body and wake up many years later.
She answered his questions, and encouraged him to keep going with the questions. She was patient, and kind, and seemed to enjoy his enthusiasm.

Several times there was a  pause in the conversation, and she would ask if he had any other questions, and he would stand there and think for a long time and come up with another one that was just as good as the last.

I was in awe.

This child has been so shut down for almost a full year. I have my child back. This is the child I lost last year.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

First Day of Homeschool 2013-14

It was a drizzly, wet day. I realized that I am
missing an essential garment~
RAIN JACKET. Luckily Sean has one.

There were microscopes, but I never got the
411 on what was in the petri dish.

A little kayaking in the Puget Sound.

Our first official day of homeschool was today, Sept. 6. We've got a Montessori Upper El curriculum we are going to follow, but we are also doing extra activities and field trips. Chuck and I enrolled Sean in a homeschool program at a YMCA camp. He is signed up for the fall sessions, and today the kids were learning about the water system that recycles waste water on the YMCA site. It was really cool.

I was thinking I would just drop him off, but there was a bit of confusion about whether I could do that, and by the time I knew that I could, Sean was already used to the idea that I was going to be there with him. So I stayed. I'm glad I did for this first session. It was cool to see. It lets me know what he was learning, so now I can spark his interest in going deeper with the study of nitrogen, and water systems, etc.

We hiked a lot today, just getting from one area to the next. I was wet most of the day, but it wasn't cold, so that was a big plus for me. I know. I've lived here for how long now? And it rains how many days of the year here? And I don't have a rain jacket. It's on my shopping list for this week.

After the formal instruction on the basics of how the water system is set up, and how it uses nitrogen, we got up close with their compost pile, and then ventured out into the garden to see more of the water system and how it is used. We then went into the garden and were allowed to sample some raspberries, and to look at the pumpkin patch.

Lunch was next, and then some instruction on canoeing and rowing. Sean and a few of the older kids chose to kayak, and it was his first time. He did great, and quickly figured out how to turn and stop and get where he wanted to go. But he was more interested in being along the shore to investigate the sea life.

The instructor today was awesome. He was great at giving information at varying levels for the different ages in our group, and was funny and engaging. It felt like we had ample time to explore and engage with each activity. I was impressed with the program.

Once everyone had a good amount of time in the boats, we put all of the equipment away and headed over to the heated pool for swim time. It was a cloudy, rainy day, but the air was surprisingly warm and kind of humid.

Sean was able to learn alongside one of his classmates from his public Montessori school who is also homeschooling this year. He also made a new friend or two, and we hope to see them again. One lives very close to us.

I met a few moms there, and we've already got another educational outing planned for next week. I think it's going to be a great year for us!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Excitement Builds

I can already see a big difference in Sean. It's as if a weight has been lifted, and he seems eager to learn again. He has found a new excitement for learning.

We visited a tutoring place a couple of weeks ago, and while we sat there for more than an hour I was thinking it could probably work. But I realized once I was home and thought back on the conversation with the tutor that I was trying to force it to work.

I talked to Sean about it, and told him I think we should look for another option. He was very grown up about it and explained that he really thought it was a waste of time and money because he thought it was stuff I could do with him here.

I'm no math teacher. I am not confident enough in my own abilities to teach it. So I knew we would need to find someone to help.

My next option became the best one. We visited Sean's old private school and talked with an Upper El teacher there who has a background in math. He seems really great, and has a wonderful energy and disposition. I instantly liked him, and felt he was a great fit for Sean and his personality. The guy is young, likes the outdoors, was totally encouraging about homeschooling, and lives not far from us.

Sean was there for our initial conversation, and is eager to begin his math instruction with Mr. Peterson. That will begin in a couple of weeks.

He loves observing animals in their natural habitat, so he has been doing a lot of that this summer. It's something he has been doing since he was very small, and I share in his wonder and excitement over a newly discovered type of bee on our flowers, or his explanation of how a bird common to our property uses its wings.

His natural curiosity seems to have taught him a lot. I can tell that I am already fighting the urge to be a "school" at home. I look at other blogs of homeschoolers and they have school rooms, and for a moment I feel guilty, like I'm not doing enough. But then I don't, and I've decided that at this age we really don't need a school room. I think we will be much more like scientists who decide on a topic of interest and do the research and present it, or go out into the field and come back and document our observations.

I've been reading a ton of information about Montessori at this stage of development, and also I've been reading some unschooling blogs and information. I think we will be somewhere in the middle, and that Montessori is unschooling with guidance.

I've decided we will have a very soft start to schooling, led by Sean, and with minimal intervention from me. Instead of making it a big deal, and structured like school, I plan to just begin some habits that will be part of our day.

We have animals that need feeding, eggs that need gathering, plants that need weeding and pruning and watering (until the rains begin) and some other practical life chores that need doing.

I'll use our curriculum as a guide, and come up with ways to encourage him to explore the areas I know we should be focusing on this year.

I've gone through a lot of school papers from Sean's time at school to see if there was anything I could save and use this year. I found a few things, like some spelling homework that I will reuse in a totally different way.

I found some really valuable information on the five great lessons, and will definitely put that to good use. And I found some pages that weren't used for some of his journaling and such that will make good templates for field studies and some other work.

We've signed up for fall education camps through our YMCA, and will have a family campout in October.

We are looking for a piano teacher, because that is the instrument Sean has chosen for now.

The principal at the school invited us to participate in any way we would like on a part-time basis. We are trying to decide what that would look like for us and if it will work.

I'm formulating some ideas for goals I'd like to see Sean achieve this year.  I will sit down with him and ask him to write down his goals first, to see if any of mine are the same as his. Then we'll discuss if my goals could be incorporated into his, and what the pros and cons would be to doing that.

We are very excited, and ready to get started!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Back-to-Home Time

It's that time of year here in the Pacific Northwest. Back to school. Our friends in the South have already begun their 2013-14 school year, and we are soaking up every second of sunshine and carefree summer days.

Sean chopping wood.
I've been away from this blog for a very long time. Although we were still a Montessori family, we had found a public Montessori school. That meant a free Montessori education for Sean, and I was all for that. So from 2009 through last school year of 2013, I wasn't posting a lot. In fact, in 2011 life got so busy with everything I was doing that my last post was that year.

Sean experienced the most amazing Montessori community while he was in second and third grade at the public Montessori school. Even though each year meant a new school building.

We started in the original building that had housed students for decades. That first year was so much fun, and so warm and inviting. Sean loved his teacher, Ms. Diamond, and so did I. I got to know the staff, and worked closely with some amazing parents, and the principal.

I was fortunate to be involved in steering the school those first couple of years as a member and chair of the site council.

We did great work, including selection of the interior for the new school, and applying for a waiver from the district math curriculum. Those early days of the new Montessori school demanded a lot of time and work!

Our second year at the public Montessori was at a different building. We were moved to a vacant school building while the new school was being constructed. What exciting times!!

Sean had the same teacher for his third year, and I was so happy about that.
Ms. Diamond cultivated a real community in her classroom. All children were accepted and celebrated by being included as an important member of that classroom community. That included the children who were not yet peaceful. I learned so much from her.

Last year was our first year at the new building. It is a beautiful structure, and it has some amazing resources within those hallways. That includes staff and volunteers.

I was the volunteer coordinator last year, and I loved the job. It was part-time, and I worked hard to create a system that would celebrate volunteerism, and yet ensure that our students were kept safe and respected. I will miss the job, and the staff and parents a lot.

They say all good things must come to an end, but I don't believe that. I believe that all good things must change in order to continue to be good.

We had a rough start for 4th grade. Very rough. Sean doesn't transition well anyway, and 4th grade was a whole new ballgame. There were so many things about Upper El that were so different, and the transition was not smooth. By November I had him moved to another classroom.

Although things got somewhat better as the year went on, it wasn't what I had hoped it would be.
Our commute to this school was a doozy. I was more than willing to do it in order to give Sean the education I wanted him to have. But he wasn't happy, and most days it was a struggle to get him to school.

I talked with my husband about this many times, and he encouraged me to just bring him home and do homeschool. The commute is difficult, the job doesn't pay much, and the most important thing was that Sean wasn't happy. I was watching the spark leave him. He had a couple of times in second and third grade when he mentioned that he didn't like school, and I quickly intervened and let Ms. Diamond know as well. We were both able to make headway and get him back on track. (She really is amazing, and I wish there were more teachers like her.)

I think it was the system that wasn't working for him. And in fourth grade I think it did him in. He wasn't interested in anything--said he was done with school. When I asked him what he would study if he had his choice of anything in the world, he said, "Nothing. I'd just play all day." If you could make your own schedule and study what you like, what would you do, I asked again. "I'd figure out how to play more and work less," he said.

That told me two things. First, that he needed more play time. It was so sad to me. He is growing so fast, and it won't be long before he won't even be interested in playing anymore.
The second thing it told me was that he had changed the way he looked at learning and it wasn't fun anymore. He had gone from a curious boy who loved to read books about snakes and spiders, and learn about science and geography and cultures and history, the arts, and the oceans and sea life, to a kid who didn't want any part of any of that.


What are our schools doing to our boys? I would say kids, but really, what I saw every day was what it was doing to our boys. I worked in the office, so I watched each day as Upper El boys were lined up against a wall at recess and had to stand and watch as the others played. They had gotten into some kind of trouble that day, and one day I think I counted 15 boys. No girls. All boys.

And yes, Sean was one of them. Because he didn't get his work done in a timely manner. And I know he is slower, and needs to focus more, and all of that. But I knew we had to make a change when he said to me, "No matter how hard I try it isn't good enough. So I'm just not going to do anything." I decided this system was not serving him.

Truly, if we lived in the school neighborhood and didn't have to commute, I'd probably be trying to find a way to keep him at that school. It really is the best public option. But it just no longer works for us.

I know there is a camp out there that believes we are supposed to force our kids to go to school and learn--that it is their job to go to school and learn. And I believe children need to learn, but I also believe they have an inner drive to learn if we get out of their way and allow them to do so.

But I DON'T believe it is a good idea to force them. I believe that is a recipe for a dropout. When people are forced to do something, they do it, and they look for any opportunity to not have to do it anymore. That comes in high school, when they are no longer required to attend school.

And so we are getting ready for Back-to-Home. I'm busy getting our curriculum put together, looking for homeschooling groups to join, and fun activities, too.

I'll be posting our experiences here as often as possible.

Here's to a great home year, everyone!~