Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mark Twain knew a thing or two

I still read to Sean at night. I plan to continue until he asks me to stop, and I secretly hope that is at least a few years away.

We finished a book last week, and I looked for another one to begin, and decided to pick through a book called "The Young Folks Shelf of Books," a collection of junior classics.

It includes the first chapter of Tom Sawyer. I don't know if I've ever read all of Tom Sawyer. If I did I was very young.

At first I was struggling with the language a bit, but being from the South, I picked up on it quickly.

I plan to get a copy from the library so we can finish the story, or if I can find an inexpensive copy I'll buy it.

At the end of the first chapter something jumped out at me that pertains to Montessori education. The story goes, for those of you who either have forgotten or haven't read it, Tom is being punished by his Auntie, who is raising him. He's supposed to be whitewashing the fence on a Saturday afternoon, and as the other boys come by to tease him, he turns it around. He convinces them that to whitewash that fence is a coveted job, and they all want a turn at it. Not only does he get out of doing the work, they pay him to let them do it.

And Mark Twain says, "If he had been a great wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do."

That sentence says it all. Montessori education, and indeed unschooling as well, educate the child with the notion that they are not obliged to do anything, but instead the work, and the world, is so compelling and full of interesting things that one could not imagine anyone not wanting to do the work of learning. And that makes the work more like play.

Mark Twain continues:
 "And this would help him to understand why constructing artificial flowers or performing on a treadmill is work, while rolling tenpins or climbing Mont Blanc is only amusement. There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and then they would resign."

Wordsmith Extraordinaire, that Mark Twain.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Things I Love About Homeschool: Time, and Pace

Sean is working on a completely child-led experiment. I didn't come up with one thing about it.

He said he wanted to find something that would interact with citric acid, inject it into a tangerine, and see how long it takes for it to decompose. I thought that was a fine idea, and told him to research what that might be.

He didn't come up with anything, so he started to think of things around the house he could use. He mixed vinegar and alcohol together and injected it into two tangerines. He did this yesterday. I started to suggest that he use the scientific method, keep notes, that he measure carefully, etc. and then I stopped myself.

It was late in the day when he began, and first thing this morning he was back at it. I decided to let him go for as long as he wanted on this task, and once in a while I would ask, "So what are you learning from this work?"

He would tell me one or two things that he had learned.

I wanted to give him the freedom to spend as much time doing it as he desired. He wasn't just messing around, he was really working and observing. From the tangerine skin, to the syringes he used, he was exploring all of it, and watching the results as he pumped as much of the liquid into these things as they could hold.

My plan is to review the scientific method with him tomorrow, and see if he can identify anything about the method that would have helped him prior to beginning this experiment.

But the really wonderful thing is that as a homeschooler he can spend all day on one experiment. The only time I stopped him was for lunch, and then again when it was time to go to children's choir. We can spend as much time as we want on a subject, and he can go at his own pace, and I love that about homeschool.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Half Year Rundown

Well, we've been at it for five months. I thought it would be a good time to get real and look at what we are really doing.

Although we are operating with a Montessori philosophy, I don't have a lot of Montessori materials here that are for Upper El instruction. I invested in quite a few when he was Lower El, but I can't afford to outfit our home with very many Upper El items. I try to Montessorize some of the things we do, but really, we are hackschooling. It makes me wonder if I should change the name of my blog. I'll think on that a little longer.

I'll explain.
We are Montessori in the fact that I'm trying the best I can without any training to follow the child, and present certain subjects in a Montessori way.
But at this stage in his development Sean is skilled at finding things he wants to learn, and as soon as he talks about something he wants to know, I try to find a way for him to explore it. He can learn a lot on his own, so I don't need to present everything.
And that is the way we are hackschooling. When he wants to learn about something I let him go for it. We also spackle instruction together through homeschooling with library books, a history curriculum that I found which spans first humans to present time, some Montesssori three-part cards and the few materials I have, and the language and grammar exercises I make up as we go. We utilize a tutor who is here for an hour a week to teach math who is a Montessori Upper El teacher.
I send him to children's choir on Wednesdays so he can have some music instruction, and he will begin formal piano lessons next week. We belong to the YMCA, and he has plenty of property to run and play for physical exercise, as well as the exercise he gets from chopping wood. He also gets some physical exercise through the Camp Seymour programs, and he gets science instruction there, and our membership to the Pacific Science Center, as well as some science projects and experiments that I've found on the Internet.
He hacks his own art instruction through the Internet, and has become quite an artist.
On top of all of that he enjoys finding things on Youtube and other Internet sites on a wide range of subjects. Whether it's how to build something, tips on stop motion photography, or information on physics or chemistry, he is always learning.
He has practical life activities every day, and has responsibilities.

I signed Sean up for Khan Academy when we were first beginning this school year, but I hadn't seen much that I thought would be at his level.

However, I saw an email last week offering an hour of instruction on how to code. Yesterday I asked if he would like to do that and he was totally on board.

He spent an hour, but he did it at his own pace. It was something he had never done before, so he went slow, and was able to make a rectangle in different sizes, and move it all over the page using code.

He stopped there, and took a break and moved on to something else for a while.

I am so thankful that we found Montessori when we did. I'm very thankful that I dove in head first to learn as much as possible about the philosophy and materials. I see that it has given him a sense of order, and the permission to take a break and do another work or activity for a while and come back to the original one. (So glad I know that it is not only normal, but healthy to do that.) He has the confidence that he needs to explore, research, and present his findings. He is patient as he works to get to an answer. He has respect for his peers, for his work, and the things in his care, such as his plants and his animals. He is comfortable expressing his feelings, and asking for what he needs.

All of this came from the Montessori environment. Being in a Montessori classroom with peers gave him a sense of community. It taught him how to wait, how to help others who are struggling, how to accept help when he didn't know something, and how to look for the good in others. He learned how to follow, and how to lead, and he learned patience--especially with others.

I will always be so grateful to all of his teachers and teacher assistants who fostered these qualities in him. I hope he will be as well.

Though I believe a Montessori classroom is a wonderful place for children to learn, I can see clearly that Sean needed to come home. I am so glad I was paying attention, and that I have a husband who not only was paying attention and supported the decision to homeschool, but suggested it!

As this school year has progressed, so has Sean. He has made a complete turnaround. When the school year ended last year, I wasn't sure I would be able to spark his interest again. He didn't want to do anything. He didn't want to learn.  He had been that way since the start of fourth grade. I was crushed.

But within the first week of being home I saw a change, and it has only gotten better. Now he is interested in everything again. His love for learning and exploring is back, and he is happy. He used to be angry a lot, but the anger has disappeared. He is content, communicative, and a joy for me to be with every day. (Though I do enjoy a day to myself every so often on the weekends ;-} )

We have some exciting projects on the horizon. He is excited to dive deeper into studying Roman history and how that empire fell. I can't express how happy it makes me to hear the excitement in his voice. There are science projects, research projects, and more.

~~We are so blessed to live in this country, where we are free to homeschool. And specifically we are blessed to live in this state, where homeschooling is respected by our lawmakers.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Breakin' it with Camp

We've been on break since Christmas Week, but I signed Sean up for some camps back at the first of December.

Of course he can start back up with his school work anytime he wants, but I figured he could use a defined number of days to relax and know that we didn't need to do "school" work.

He just finished Lego camp today, and I haven't even had a chance to ask him what they did. It's through the Bricks4Kids company. He attended their after school program last year, and did the stop-motion photography camp this summer. I knew he'd like to get back into a room filled with bins of Legos, even though his own room could be used for one of their classes ;-)

Yesterday was Eco Camp at Camp Seymour. He had done part of this instruction before, but I like the idea of repeating things, especially when there's a lot of info.

He is dissecting a squid.
He did this in fourth grade, and I plan to sign him up for it again later this month when they offer it to homeschoolers, if he's up for it.

He said they learned about salmon spawning, and went out in the big canoe. I won't post that picture because it has a ton of kids in it and I'm not sure their parents would want their photos shared.
A big than you to Jessica Smeall, recreation coordinator for Key Peninsula Parks. She advertised the camp dates and programs, and she took these pics and many more.