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.