Sunday, March 16, 2014

Elements: The Gifts That Keep Giving

Books are very special in our house. Sean has always had a full bookshelf, and as he has outgrown some of them, they've been replaced with books that are at his current level.

While he was at the public Montessori school there were book fairs several times a year. We attended all of them, and always came away with at least one book. And this is funny, in a way, because this is a kid who doesn't enjoy reading. Not novels, anyway.

It was at one of the final book fairs of the year that I found a couple of things I wanted to put back for his birthday. One was a book called, "The Elements." It's beautiful, and I just knew he'd love it. I also had already been thinking of doing homeschool again, and figured even if we didn't, this book would definitely be useful for years.

He opened it on his birthday last year and was overjoyed. It has been his go-to book for reading pleasure. I haven't asked him to do anything with it at all.

Last week he decided he would use it for the science part of his work plan, and came up with an activity on his own. He wanted to make a list of five elements off the top of his head, then look them up in the book and write down how they are used.

First he began by telling me that elements are so important, because without them we wouldn't be here. We need these elements in order to live, he said. Then he made his list of five, and started looking for them in the book to get information.

While he was working on that his math teacher arrived and made a comment about the book. "That's the one that comes with the cards, right?" he said. It didn't come with cards. I didn't know about the cards. He said he saw it in his Montessori Education Institute of the Pacific Northwest training. He described some of the information on the cards, and how they can be used, and I immediately got online to search for them. Found 'em. Ordered. Delivered on Thursday.

The cards are a companion for the book, in my opinion. Although I believe either could be used exclusively without the other. The book is gorgeous. Each element is represented by a color photo and some information about it. The periodic table is explained and in color as well.

The front of each card has a large color photo of the element, along with the number of the element, and on the back is detailed information.

I had Sean read the cover card, which provides a variety of ways to use the cards. He decided his first work would be to arrange the cards by melting point.

This work had him thinking. He wanted me to work with him, but all I did was hold up a card and say the name of the element, and he would take it and either predict the melting point, or just look on the back for it and place it on the floor. But he decided some of them would be a negative number, just based on what he knows about the element. I was genuinely intrigued with this work, and his explanations of why one element would have a negative melting point temperature while another would be a really high positive number melting point, so I provided the awe and wonder while he walked me through the work as he was doing it.

It also had him using math, and putting the numbers in order from lowest to highest melting point. We didn't get through all 118 of them yet. Unfortunately we work in the living room and couldn't leave all of the cards out over the weekend to come back to on Monday. We stacked the cards he already arranged, and put the others back in the box. I'm sure he'll come back to this work, and I am excited to see how he continues to use these cards in different ways.

If you are interested in "The Elements" book or cards, you can find them here and here. I bought the book at a Scholastic book fair, but got the box of cards from Amazon. I see there is also one called "Elements Vault." It looks great. We don't have that one. Yet.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Things I love About Homeschool: Curriculum

We are lucky to live in a state that honors a family's right for children to learn at home, and to choose the curriculum that works best for their children. This freedom to choose has been a big relief to me.

I know my child, and though I'm still figuring out as we go on this homeschooling journey all of the things that work, I am certain of the things that don't work.

Choosing a curriculum for homeschooling can be a huge task, but for us it has been easy. Sean started his schooling at a private Montessori school, and when I decided to homeschool him for first grade,  I found a large community of Montessori homeschoolers online. It was such a blessing. Although there isn't anyone near us who is using Montessori at home, just having the online community was comforting for me.

Although he ended up going to a public Montessori school for second through fourth grades, when I brought him home this year to homeschool, there was no question that we would use Montessori again.

Now that he is older, we are using some Montessori materials, and I'm coming up with ways to teach other things on our syllabus that are interesting to him. We use an Upper El Montessori curriculum, but it's a mix of freedom within structure. Freedom to choose what to write about, with guidance on how to write about it. Freedom to venture into science topics that interest him, history that is intriguing, and current events.

He comes up with his own ways of learning science at home, and we mix in some monthly trips to Camp Seymour, and the Pacific Science Center. He has materials here that have been given as gifts, and I download some ideas from the Internet. He reads his book about elements and the periodic table, and other science information, and also researches things online. He comes up with his own experiments and questions to research. If he's curious about things like the Bermuda Triangle, we can find a video on that subject, and he can look for more information on his own.

He prefers to read fact, and listen to me read fiction. He reads about planes, technology, and animals, and I read aloud to him books such as Huckleberry Finn, and other classics. We use the newspaper a little bit, and I plan to start using it more, selecting certain stories for him to read so we can discuss them.

We incorporate art into our curriculum, and this was missing from his public school experience. He draws daily, and learns new techniques by researching them on his own. I incorporate drawing into every subject we study, frequently asking him to draw a map, characters for a story, or something he would like to invent.

Fortunately we can afford private piano lessons, but his public school music class definitely reinforced his knowledge of music and prepared him to feed his passion for it.

Our history work is not Montessori material, but he is doing fine with it. I'm trying to bring in some interesting things to go along with the history we are studying.

My child learns best this way. Hands-on materials for some subjects, child-led learning in some areas, and freedom of choice with parameters in other subjects. An outside expert is needed for things like the piano lessons, the math instruction, and the art lessons he is currently taking. Field trips are a great way to reinforce his learning.

What does not work for Sean is a traditional schedule of take out your math book and work on that for X minutes, then take out your spelling book and work on that for X minutes, etc., traditional teaching, and traditional subject matter.

What he needs most of all is freedom, and homeschooling has given us that freedom to choose the methods and curriculum that work best for him. The goal is to learn, and he's doing that.

We are thankful that our state honors our choices, and that we are free to find the best way for Sean to learn.