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.