Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Birthday Milestone

This was written in September, 2015

As I write this, Sean is engaged in a major social milestone.

It's his birthday party, although his birthday was a couple of weeks ago. He wanted an Airsoft party, and we've been planning it for quite a while. We decided to make it an optional campout. Being 13 is a big deal, and to me it should come with some big kid stuff. The start time was 4 p.m., because he wanted part of the Airsoft party to be a night game. We took a break for dinner, steaks and hot dogs on the grill, a pizza, veggie tray, and potato salad. Then cake. And as soon as the food settled, they were back out for more Airsoft game.

Five of the six boys stayed to camp in tents. All of the boys who stayed, as well as Sean, have been to camp at Camp Seymour for various lengths of time. But camping in our back yard, in tents, with as much hands-off adult supervision as we feel is safe is different than being at camp with a whole bunch of kids with planned activities. This has been mostly a free for all. Chuck did some herding to get them going on their games, and at the end of the games gave a time limit, and then we confiscated the weapons.

We were liberal with the time limit. At 10 p.m. the games ended and all weapons were brought into the house.

They are laughing, talking loudly, being boys. It's late, and I'd like to go to sleep sometime tonight, but I like that he is experiencing something of a milestone.

My brother and I grew up this way. It wasn't anything planned by our parents. We lived in a neighborhood where most of the homes sat on 1/4 to 1/2 acre, and all of the kids played together. We reached milestones together without realizing it, and it was natural for us to camp out, stay up all hours of the night in the summertime, walk together to the store for a pop and a candy bar, and have disagreements and learn how to negotiate and work it out. We had strict boundaries for behavior and responsibilities, but we were free to be kids.

Parents are different now. A lot of parents won't allow their boys to play with Airsoft guns, or spend the night outside. I get it. I understand their worries.
But these kids are having fun. And I want my son to know what it feels like to sleep out there surrounded by friends, talking nonsense boy stuff, building memories that he will treasure for a lifetime.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Brain Science

Sean loves science, and has had an interest in the brain for a couple of years.

This month's Visiting Scientist day at the Pacific Science Center was focused on brain science. I knew he would love it, so I put it on our calendar.

It takes us a while to get there, and if traffic is bad it takes longer. Traffic wasn't great, and it was a blustery day. Parking is always a little tricky, even though there is a parking garage. It was nearly full, and I finally found a spot at the very bottom of the garage.

The room was packed with tables, scientists, and budding scientists. It was the most crowded scientist day we've been to so far. The tables spilled out into other sections, and I think there were 20 tables manned by doctors and researchers from the University of Washington Medical Center, and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, along with some university students and volunteers. There seemed to be a mix of brain-related information, and some other science activities. I saw some carnations soaking up various colored dye. There was a guy from Fish and Wildlife talking about fish population, and a table where kids could assemble their own cells with plastic zip lock bag, confetti, and pom poms.

Every table was crowded, except for one in the corner.

When we first arrive at such a scene, he needs to get his bearings and take a moment to scan the room and process it all. It's a little overwhelming.

I decided our best bet was to find a station that was empty and start there.  I scanned the room quickly, and spotted a table in the corner with no kids. I steered him there. It looked boring to the untrained eye, but I knew there were exciting things under the cloths.

Eureka! Real human brains!

The neuroscientist explained the regions of the brain and their functions as Sean held the brain in his hand. His first comment upon holding it was, "It's not as heavy as I thought it would be."

This was the perfect place to start. He got one-on-one instruction, asked questions, and really soaked it all in.

Sean listens as a neuroscientist talks about the brain before placing it in his hand.
From there we moved around the room to look at a robot, and some 3-D printed stuff that included a prosthetic hand. This table was intriguing, because Sean took a 2-hour class this month at one of our library branches on 3-D printing, and designed and printed a letter S. He had fun talking to the guys at this table. He learned that some of them had designed a 3-D printer nozzle to print with clay, but the nozzle doesn't work. However, they learned a lot by trying to make that nozzle, they said. Lesson there, don't be afraid to fail!
Prosthetic hand made from 3-D printer.

From there he went on to a table with a matching game. Photos of brains on one page, and photos of animals on another, and he had to figure out which brain came from each animal.We stopped at a table about blood, and information about blood donation and compatible blood types. Sean got to use an instrument that drops samples into trays, and it was one of his favorite things there.

We absolutely love the Pacific Science Center. Our membership has paid for itself already, and with our membership this year, we get a subscription of Popular Science magazine. Win, win!

Though we've been going since Sean was about 3 years old, it was our first time going into the Butterfly Garden. It was so enchanting and beautiful. I could sit in there all day if they had chairs. That's probably why they don't. ;-)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Learning without School

I'm on a lot of Facebook pages for homeschooling. Most of them are Montessori related, but one of them is our local community homeschooling page.
Recently someone was offering a stack of homeschooling magazines geared toward unschooling through that page. They were free. The mom posting the offer held a drawing and I was chosen to receive them.

Included in the stack of magazines is a book called, Growing Without Schooling Volume One. It's a compilation of newsletters from August 1977- December 1979. I'm in awe of what the homeschooling pioneers went through, and how dedicated they were to ensuring that their children were getting the education they wanted them to have.

Most of the newsletters I've read so far deal with a lot of laws on school attendance during that time in various states, and some personal accounts of school districts threatening the parents with jail for refusing to send their children to school.

The information about learning sounds a lot like Montessori's methods. Maybe these people who wrote in knew intuitively how best to give their children the information, or maybe they were natural Montessorians who observed their children to see what they were naturally drawn to and then provided those things for them. Maybe they themselves had been Montessori students. I don't know. I just know that so far, and I'm only on Issue No. 4, that the parents who have written about how their children are learning were certain they were doing the right thing by keeping their children home. And they were willing to risk a lot to do it.

Most everything I have read I have agreed with entirely:
-how schools elicit bad behavior, the way schools are run more like a penalizing institution rather than a place to learn, and that children learn more and with ease when they are in a home environment.
-The way the schools violate civil liberties by keeping records on children without their or their parents' knowledge, writing sometimes derogatory and slang remarks in those files that are kept and passed on each year to the next teacher.
-How the schools feel like an authority over parents, and bully children. I've seen this first-hand.

The unschooling parents gave evidence that the children were learning just as much, and in a lot of cases more, than their peers who were in school. I absolutely believe they were better off in so many ways. I saw first-hand the negative impacts that school had on my youngest child. I saw it, too, with my older children, but I had not other options.

I see the negative in schools, but I also recognize positive gains in my son that I know are the result of his time spent in Montessori school. They are things, like patience, kindness, manners, perseverance, and curiosity. As I've said before, his experience in fourth grade was not good, and he was losing what he had gained. But when we came home he was delighted, and fully regained all of it.

My fears of unschooling have been slowly fading. We still do Montessori, but I'm much more relaxed when we have a day without instruction. Part of that comes with homeschool experience, knowing that he is still learning. And I find that the more I read, the more I believe in the unschooling idea.

I'm beginning to wonder why we need to believe in benchmarks, standards, grade-level achievements, etc. Who gets to say that a 7 year old should know how to read? Why have we given someone else the authority to decide that instead of the parents? And what does a child gain by being forced to learn? There are so many other examples of standards that I think are ridiculous.

What I've observed is that we all learn in our own time, on our own when given a rich environment filled with opportunities to learn. All children need is that environment, and others around them who they can go to with questions, who understand what they are trying to learn and how to help them to do it.

I would really like to hear from people who grew up in the unschooling movement, or who were homeschooled without a traditional curriculum. My one concern is rigor and the ability to assimilate into college life.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Sensitive Period for Tiny, Detailed Work

If you've got a brother, grew up around boys, or are married to a man, you will likely recognize this sensitive period.

Suddenly, somewhere around the age of 13, there is a strong desire to work with tiny things. A true urge to create something that requires delicate handling, and precise eye-hand coordination.

I'm talking about what I call the small model and model car paint period. For my brother, this need to work with small things started earlier, and he worked on tiny Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars to change their wheels when he was quite young. He also loved tinkering with watches, taking them apart and trying to get them back together as he reached adolescence.

This week Sean requested that we take a trip to Michael's to get paint. He knew exactly the type of paint he needed to re-design some Lego pieces. We had to ask for help to locate it, and there, along with the paint, were the model cars, planes and helicopters.

Though he wanted to dive into those, I wasn't ready to spend that much money. I didn't realize they were so expensive. But I have some good ideas for Christmas now;-). I encouraged him to stay on task, and look for the paint colors he originally came there to buy.

He found two colors that he felt were exactly what he wanted, but the green he had hoped for wasn't the green they had. This led us to discuss mixing colors to achieve the desired color. He loves art, but has been exclusively focused on drawing for a few years. He has been resistant to painting, and so this was the first time we'd discussed mixing paint colors. And so he also chose a bottle of white paint for this reason. He found three paint brushes of various brush sizes for detailed work. I regret not getting a palette, but he has made do with a paper plate.

Patiently, methodically, he has been painting the arms of a tiny Lego figure. He carefully mixed colors, adding a little bit of white, then more, then another, darker color, to finally have the color he wanted.
This project has been his focus for a few evenings this week.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What do you do at bedtime?

Last Thursday, we hosted our homeschool play day that has carried on since last year's Wolf Camp that we hosted on our property. Only Kyle could make it last week, and after I returned from taking Kyle home, Sean was on the computer. It was nearly 4 p.m. and I told him we needed to do some school. I asked him to turn off the screen.
He told me he had done science the night before, but I was skeptical. I hadn't seen him doing science the night before.
He showed me a video he watched about opioids. I decided it was indeed science, and pretty advanced stuff, so I asked him to get his science composition book and carefully, in his best 7th grade handwriting, outline what he had learned from the video.
He first was surprised that he is in 7th grade. I guess he forgot. I have never made a big deal about grade levels, but I like him to know what level he is now, because we are getting ever closer to high school.
He pulled out his sketch pad, held it up and asked, "You mean like this? Can you read this?"
He was seriously curious if he had done work at a 7th grade level. He had outlined what he learned. And he had obviously paused the video to take careful notes and to be sure he had spelled the words correctly before moving on. It was well organized, neatly written, some information was circled with a mark that denoted a this and then that type of scenario of how pain is communicated in the brain. It was so impressive that I was left speechless.
Mostly because we haven't even talked much about my expectations for this year, or about how to take notes, and how to be thorough. But also because the subject matter was very advanced and complex, and he had done it late the night before, when he could have chosen anything at all to do. Legos, a movie, any number of things.
I didn't want to skip doing school, so I encouraged him to think of some reasons why a Dr. would prescribe an opiate. He had some of the medicines listed, and said maybe morphine for a broken bone.
He searched broken bones, and the various ways a bone breaks. I asked him to sketch those and label them, and he did it with skill.
His work led me to wonder if he knew some of the clearly advanced biological terms, and if he knew what the person meant when talking about enzymes. He hasn't chosen to do that work yet, but I am sure he will soon.
And I wonder if we all, after at least some exposure to watching others categorize information, come to understand how to take notes and outline information?
I also wonder if he would do better to start school at 4 p.m., because he clearly does some of his best work after I'm in bed.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Homeschooling and selling the house

It's the first time I haven't been the least bit excited to say goodbye to summer and jump into the school year. It's our first official year of Middle School, 7th grade. I'm getting there, but I'm overwhelmed with life right now.

Our schools start in September around here, and I decided to follow the schedule of our old district, which means we officially begin tomorrow. Just to get him into a routine I did a soft start last week.

I haven't planned anything for curriculum, except a basic concept of what I'd like to see him do this year.  I've had ideas floating around in my brain, read a few of the many items I have on Middle School years for Montessori, and that's about it.

We are selling our house, so almost everything has been packed into bins and put into the POD while we show our home on a regular basis to potential buyers. I thought we would have it sold by now, but there was a delay in listing. It's only been on the market for a month. I packed all of those things away in early June, thinking the house would be listed by the end of June, and we would be ready to pack up and move by now.

Keeping the house looking like no one lives here is a big job. I try to keep everything clean and put away, so that we could do a quick sweep and wipe down and be ready to get out of the house within an hour. It has happened more than once.

I kept only a few things for math and language in our storage ottoman, and figured we could limp along with library and field trips until we are settled into a new place. I miss the homeschool materials. It feels so bare and strange without them. Maybe that's why I haven't been very excited. I'd like to have our old shelves and materials in our living room again, so I could update the materials on the shelves, and we could just go to the shelf and choose something to work on.

But we have to improvise for a while, so I decided to start with goals for the school year. He has some goals, and I have some for him, and we will work together to accomplish those. A lot of them are practical life kinds of skills.

He wants to get solid on Algebra, and asked to do Trigonometry, but I cautioned him that the manual is rather thick for our Montessori Adolescent Algebra. I don't think we can get to Trigonometry in one year.

I want him to learn how to do a budget, and a business plan. He wants to learn how to parallel park, and to fly an airplane.

Some of our goals will likely get changed or altered in some way, but we are both looking at this year much differently than the past two we've spent at home.

He asked me tonight if I had some stuff out for him to work on for tomorrow. I don't, but I will certainly pull out some things. Language will have to be first, because I have to do more prep for math.

This month I see us focused on math and writing. And we might have to keep it going for a couple of months. It can be an in-depth study of those subjects until we can mix in the other things.

We will definitely do some manual labor kind of work around here. He has embraced hard work, and looks for a chance to work outside. Today he cut the raspberry bushes and hauled the clippings out to the compost pile.

After reading one of the papers on adolescents, I recognize that he is fully in that plane of development. His bed covers are always crumpled, and clothes strewn on the floor. He cleans up each morning and makes the bed, but he prefers to sleep without the top sheet anymore, making his comforter a pile of soft material.

His focus is on friends, finding any opportunity to socialize. And I will make sure he has a lot of opportunities for that.

He has become what the paper describes, a cave child. He wants to be in the house, specifically in his room if he isn't in front of the video game. He hangs out in his room, with his crumpled bedding, and his music. He no longer goes outside on his own much. I have to encourage, or ask him to come help me with something in the garden. Then he lingers, walking around the property, playing with the dogs, talking to the chickens, observing the birds in the trees and yard.

This property has been exactly what we needed. It has provided so much joy and opportunity for a healthy homeschool environment. We are looking for another, similar to this one, but one that meets more of what we need.

In case you're looking to relocate to the beautiful Pacific Northwest, to a farm that would be perfect for your homeschooling family, with a Christmas tree farm started with 200 trees growing, 7 acres of land, beautiful flower beds, a chicken coop, small shop, hookup for an RV, and a natural amphitheater with a gazebo for entertainment, and more, here's a link to the MLS:

Friday, July 24, 2015

Thinking about Getting Ready for our First year of Middle School

It seems big. Kind of intimidating. We are launching into a completely different plane of development, and teaching a teenager isn't something I've ever done.

Sean will be 13 just before we begin our year of 7th grade homeschool. I expect to use some of the curriculum from last year, since we sure didn't get to all of the history and language I wanted to cover.

I haven't started on our curriculum for this year yet. We are getting ready to sell our house and move, and we don't know if the house will sell, so we haven't begun to look for a new place yet. We hoped all of this would happen in June, but delays on septic paperwork that was not on file at the county, etc. has set us back a bit. And that has me on hold as far as purchasing any supplies or books for homeschool, and getting really serious and organized. Everything is going into boxes for storage while we sell.

One thing I know I want to do is a PE class at our local YMCA. Our homeschool group that meets each week has been talking about doing this together. I think it's a great idea. We have plenty of opportunities to run, jump, climb, and play here, but now that Sean is getting older I think he needs a more structured PE plan.

I am also looking for other group opportunities for him, because I know that adolescents needs a lot of social activities. I'm still thinking on it, and researching what is available. If I can't come up with anything, I'll create something here like I did last year with the Wolf Camp survival training.

Intern or shadowing someone in the work force, hopefully doing something he wants to learn more about, is another idea I have.

And I was listening to a radio program about children's philosophy classes, and I thought about trying to do something like that with a small group at the private school Sean used to attend.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Road Trip Provides Best Geography, Cultural lessons

The more I relax and observe, instead of worrying and leading, the more I embrace unschooling.

Here's just one example of why:

My oldest son joined the Air Force, and his graduation from Basic Military Training in San Antonio, Texas was at the end of June.
My husband couldn't get time off from work, but I wanted to be there, and make sure Sean was there for it as well. So after a couple of months of trying to decide if we should fly or drive, I settled on a road trip.

It's been years since I've driven that far as the only driver. I admit I was a little nervous about being overly tired, but I have driven all the way across the country before.

Sean was apprehensive. He didn't like the idea of being gone so long.

I convinced him I needed company, and a navigator. The trip was pretty big. It took us six days to get to San Antonio, and longer to get home because I wanted to stop and see as much as possible. We were gone for 22 days. We enjoyed seeing David graduate, and spending time with him while we could due to the restrictions they have for trainees. We saw a lot of San Antonio, visited the Alamo, did the River Walk cruise. We also had fun at our hotel swimming pool, but without Dave. He wasn't allowed to swim.

And here's the unschooling part.

Sean learned so much just by being my co-pilot. Along our way, after I determined our next stop, I would tell him where we were going, I would plug it into my phone navigator, and then I would have him keep track of where we were and how much farther to our next stop.

Although this was completely different from the old days when I used a huge Atlas to help me, it worked great. We stayed on two-lane highways most of the trip, and even traveled on Route 66 for a while. The scenery was breathtaking, and the traffic was minimal for the most part.

We drove through Oregon, Idaho, Colorado and New Mexico on our way to San Antonio, Texas. We experienced extreme heat, and then extreme heat and humidity. Some of the places we drove through had our car thermometer reading 101 F or more.

We took a different route to get home. We drove through a different part of Texas, then into New Mexico, visiting the Carlsbad Caverns area, White Sands, and we saw the continental divide, and Four Corners. We cut over into Utah, visiting a town called Bluff, learning a little bit about the Mormon history in Utah, and climbing Wilson's Arch near Moab. Then we took a highway in Idaho, and avoided Eastern Washington because of wildfires there, and instead headed back to Portland, Oregon, and then home.

He learned a lot about geography, and the variety of landscapes, and he shared some of his knowledge with a friend as I was driving through part of New Mexico on our way to Utah. His friend didn't seem to know where New Mexico was, or Utah or Idaho for that matter. The friend will be starting high school, and is in public school. Sean tried to describe where New Mexico was on the map, and sharing and teaching is the best way to solidify knowledge.

Could Sean have learned all of this in school? Maybe. But after listening to his friend on the phone I have my doubts. Could he have learned this from me through a homeschool geography curriculum? Yes. But would he have really learned it? Would he have internalized it, and been excited about these new places? I doubt it.

We were blessed to have the opportunity to visit these places and experience the different climates, the landscapes, and the people. I handed him my camera while I drove, and he got some beautiful pictures of the monuments in Utah, and the adobe homes in New Mexico.

He asked me why the Native Americans seemed to be so poor, and it sparked a great conversation about disenfranchised people, and the effects of what has been happening for many years. And we stopped at some interesting places, like the Living Desert Zoo in New Mexico, and he took pictures of animals, bugs and spiders, lol.

By interacting with a variety of people, including Navajo, I can now introduce him to information about Navajo and it will mean something completely different to him.

I can only hope that he will remember this trip as fondly as I will. It was so much fun to experience all of the things we did, plus we had some wonderful conversations. We spend pretty much every day together, but the time in the car was very focused with no opportunity for distractions.

This is the kind of guiding/teaching and learning that I like best.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


I wish sleep could be part of a work plan. It really is work, because a growing body transforming through puberty requires a lot of sleep. And that is most of what Sean has been doing for the past month.

It has slowed us down quite a bit.  He can function great later in the evening after sleeping 12-14 hours, but for me, it's the time of day that I'm fading away. My ability to think and respond are not so great at 10 p.m. and that seems to be a great time for him to begin asking me math questions.

Frustrating as this can be, I've decided there is nothing to gain by fighting his need to sleep. Even if I drag him out of bed and make him come to the land of the living, he's comatose, and can't do school work.

So I'm waiting it out, reminding him that the material still has to be covered, so we will have to continue to work into the summer to be sure we cover it all.

We were almost finished with ancient civilizations. I was trying to spark his interest in Native American history as an ancient civilization. He wasn't that interested. I decided to hold it for later, maybe next year, and just ask him what he'd like to learn about instead. I've been trying to present history in order, and I've had him filling out a timeline on a large roll of paper. But if he's not interested, I'd rather skip it and come back to it later.

He wanted to study Medieval history. And so we've been doing that for more than a month.
We plan is to visit a Medieval village in Carnation, Washington very soon.

If he can wake up.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Native American Geometry Workbook Series

I found these by accident. A link, or something, that led me to the Teachers Pay Teachers site, which BTW, has some good stuff. Not all of it is great, but some of it has been helpful to me.

The premise behind the workbook series is that if you get kids creating art, math happens naturally. And it does.

There are two workbooks that aren't really necessary, in my opinion. One is called Native American Geometry Workbook, and in the corner it says "Student Files." Although it is interesting to read through and see the work students have produced, it isn't essential.

The other is called Native American Geometry Workbook Series "Howdy," w/ printables.
This one is 33 pages, and though it has great information in it, it is pretty much a retelling of what is in the student files workbook.

When I got these they were both free.

I paid for Volume I, which is 159 pages, Volume 2.1, which is 70 pages, and Vol. II: 2, which is 116 pages. These seem like a great way to introduce Geometry while making it apply to everyday life.

I like the Montessori materials, and the way the information is presented, but especially at the adolescent plane I think it is important to show how it is meaningful to our lives. We are using Keys of the Universe Geometry Album alongside this series.

These workbooks start with having the student produce beautiful artwork, and progress to Pythagorean demonstrations through gardening.

As I presented the first lesson Sean was eager to begin. I can't wait to see how this progresses!
Here's a link to Vol. I.
If you've already used these, I'd love to have your feedback in the comments!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Night School

Today we were doing life as school. A trip to  Les Schwab to get the tires on my car checked resulted in most of an afternoon away from home.

While we were out, I stopped at the library and we checked out books on Rome and Ancient Native American history, as well as a book about building rockets. We are hoping to participate in Rocket Day with some local homeschoolers this weekend.

We've been working on cleaning Sean's room for a few days, and he had it ready for a deep vacuuming. As I helped put some things away, I noticed a dime and asked where he kept his piggy bank. Found it, and then he wanted to count all of the change. He doesn't use it much, but he has had it for more than 7 years. Once we had that job completed we headed out for a Mom and Son dinner at a local Teriyaki place.

As I drove along the sand spit I suggested that as soon as the rain clears we should start doing some of our lessons outside, and do some of our school at the beach.  I said something like, "We should do more school out of the house," and he responded saying he wanted to do school in the house, and I don't remember how it started, but we kept responding to each other rhyming with the word House for a very long time.

When the waitress came to our table to take the order, Sean ordered our meal. It's become kind of a tradition for us, that if we are at an Asian restaurant he orders and is in charge. It started when he was quite young--7 or 8, I believe. For some reason he seems very comfortable ordering Asian food, and knows what each item is, and what he likes. After the meal,  he asks for the check, and asks for boxes to take leftovers. Soon I will have him pay, and figure out the tip.

After dinner we went shopping for a comforter to deliver to my husband at the fire station, and I was trying to hurry to get it there before he would be ready for bed. He usually goes to bed early while he's at the station, hoping to get as much sleep as possible before an emergency call.

By the time we arrived at the station it was 9 p.m. What I thought would be a quick hand-off of the item to my husband turned into a full hands-on lesson in fire and rescue/medical aid gear. Sean was full of questions, and explored all of the things he was allowed to explore, including the night vision tool that helps locate people in danger. He went from fire engine to fire truck, command rig, and Medic One rig asking questions.

He has done that before, but it was basic, and it's been a while. It was also during the day, and there were other people around. This was a private tour.

We didn't do one formal school activity today, but look at all of the learning that happened!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Update on Geometry Sticks

We have started the Keys of the Universe Geometry album, and so far, so good.

A lot of it was just review in the beginning, but it led to some great work.

Going over the concepts of Congruent, Equivalent and Similar led to looking at our fraction circles. We don't have any metal insets, or metal anything here, so I have to improvise with some of the ways I present these concepts. Luckily he's had access to these things in a classroom before, so my information is just one more way of looking at it.

The fraction circles were a way for him to explore equivalency, and he used two 1/2 circles.
While he had those out, he started fitting other fractions into those halves. He's done this work before, but it was fun to explore it again. He made notes in his math composition book to indicate how many 1/10s can fit into 1/2. He traced the 1/2 and then traced 1/10s inside of it and labeled it. Then he did the same with 1/8s. I asked if it would work with 1/7, and he said no, and then we tried 1/5s, but that didn't work either. When he had the 1/2s finished, I asked, "So, if four 1/8s will fit into 1/2, how many will fit into one whole. Of course this was easy work for him, but I was happy to review it and see where he is with fractions. (Who needs tests?)

Then he asked if there was division with fractions, because he's been working on long division for a while now. He likes it, and still seems to want to keep going with it.  I can see that he is still working through the steps for long division and needs my assistance sometimes. He sees all of the numbers and starts to get confused. I'm trying to find a better way to explain it, but haven't found anything yet that will isolate just the numbers he needs to focus on at that moment. I encourage him to cover up whatever he isn't using, but it is difficult. He has worked with the tubes, but I can't justify spending the money on them. I don't think we would use them for very long anyway.

We've worked with word problems, so he understands the concept of division, it's just setting it up on the paper and working through it a step at a time with all of those numbers on the page that are getting him tripped up sometimes. I want him to get used to doing this, because when he gets deeper into algebra I don't want the string of numbers and setting up those problems to be overwhelming.

But I digress.

Once he was finished working with the fractions, we moved on to Geometry Sticks. At first he was resistant, and claimed we had done that work before. We had never done it before, but he remembered it from school.

I started at the beginning anyway, and followed the album. By the time I had constructed a few polygons, he was starting to become more receptive to the idea. He clearly understood what a polygon is, and I asked him to construct one. He wanted to use as many sticks as possible.

I kept saying, "Oh, I don't know. Do you think this will work?" He insisted that it would. When he got to the last piece, and he probably used about a dozen sticks in various sizes, he had to zig and zag them to get a closed end.

We ended with the quadrilateral.

Next we will explore the Triangle, and talk about how it is the shape that constructs.

Monday, February 16, 2015

More materials--Geometry Sticks

My view of materials has changed a bit over the years.

I seem to waver back and forth-- get as many materials as I can afford, or just forget it and improvise with something around the house. Some of the materials we have don't get used much, and that disappoints me. I have spent a lot of money on some of them, and others I've found a a great discount. Either way, it's not free.

I tend to hang onto them, because I never know when it will suddenly interest him.

I'm also feeling a little nostalgic, because I know we are going further away from materials now, and next school year we will officially be Middle Schooling it.

So, I'm always excited for the materials to arrive, and hope that Sean will choose to work with them. That is definitely the case with the Geometry Stick material.

I've had my eye on it for more than a year, but there were always other things that we needed more. I finally placed my order, and I'm so glad that I did.

I recently purchased the Keys of the Universe Geometry album, and as I read through it I saw that the stick material is used throughout the album.

We haven't started the album yet, but plan to do so this week.

Sean is very agreeable and open to working with some of the materials I'm presenting, so I'm crossing my fingers that he will love the Geometry Sticks and the lessons in the album.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Things I Love About Homeschool: Recess

A Montessori teacher friend of mine, Meag, has started on a new path, and will welcome her first class of children to her Nature School in the fall.

I was invited to her home last weekend, and we had such a great time catching up and chatting about her new plans, and how she decided on opening her own school.

It sounds so amazing, and almost makes me wish I had a little one to send to her school. It's an outdoor, Spanish emersion school for pre-school and Kindergarten. The children will be outside the entire time. She became a Cedarsong certified Forest Kindergarten teacher, and I can't wait to see her school grow.

As we dined over a delicious lunch she had prepared, we discussed was how things are going for me with homeschooling. I shared with her how important I believe unstructured play is for all children. It's partly why I've been hosting the play group that meets at our house once a week ranges in age from 8 to 12. It started out as a structured environmental outdoor day camp, but when the camp ended I invited participants to continue to meet here for play day.

If my child were in a regular school, he would be in middle school, and what I've heard is that there isn't recess for middle school. They have PE classes, but not unstructured free time.

I think it's a real shame. I don't expect kids in that age range (11-14) to want to play the same way that children in elementary school do, but I believe unstructured play and free time are so important to our psyche.

It's just one of the many reasons I love to homeschool. I can provide my child with plenty of time to explore outside whenever he wants to do so, or we can go out for a hike, or just take a small break to spend time with the dogs, cats, or chickens. Being outside gives us a chance to process what we've been working on, get some fresh air, and relax and have fun.

Homeschool is so awesome!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Mittens for Koalas, a Change of Plan

Once we signed up on the IFAW website as mitten makers for the Koalas who have been injured in the bushfires, I received notice that the call for mittens was so successful that they have way more than enough.

And postage to Australia from the U. S. is so expensive, they are encouraging anyone outside of Australia to donate money instead.

Our homeschool group met today, and although some of the parents had ideas for other service projects, the kids didn't express enthusiasm. So, for now, I'm leaving it as it is.

I want whatever Sean does as a service project to be something he is passionate about. I'm content to wait.

Where to put all of that Montessori stuff

I've hemmed and hawed over what to do about the homeschool materials situation. I really don't have that many Montessori materials, but I do have a lot of homeschool stuff. And maybe I have more materials than I realize, but I didn't want the materials to take over my house.

We don't have any extra rooms here, and our most comfortable space to work is the living room. So I've had a small shelf with materials and books for Sean, and another one with extra albums and supplies for later, and a couple of those large plastic bins with the rest.

Those bins house all of the things we aren't currently using, but probably will at some point. I have my laminator and my paper cutter in there. I also have some extra books and paper, and some composition books, which we use for anything that requires paper. I learned quickly that I couldn't stand loose papers and the mess of them. The only loose papers we have are printed work plans, which he dates, and fills in with the specific work he is doing. He punches holes in those and puts them into a notebook.

At first those bins were upstairs, in our office, but it was such a pain to keep going back up to retrieve something that I decided to just move them downstairs and stack them beside our small shelf.

That shelf is a cube shelf with 9 cubbies. It's nice. On the top I have the geometry cabinet, a globe and a vase with a stem and flowers made from colorful cloth. I had assigned a subject for each cubbie, and one for pens, markers, pencils and pencil sharpener. But this cubbie shelf just wasn't enough.

I found myself ready to present something, or Sean asking for something, and the materials were not readily available. I had to dig through the bins to try to find it. Not ideal. I also had extra materials on another shelf, which holds some books and some DVDs. All of that stuff was willy-nilly because there wasn't enough space to organize it by subject. So frustrating.

Last week I went to Target and bought a couple of magazine boxes, and baskets in a variety of sizes, thinking that would solve my problem. It didn't. There wasn't enough room for the baskets.

As I said, I didn't want this stuff to take over the living room. I didn't want the school things to be front and center when a guest walked into our home. But I just didn't see another way, so I went for it.

I bought three shelf units at IKEA. I got the Besta shelves, and I'm happy with them. They look nice, they match the color of our cubbie shelf, and they were pretty easy to put together. Plus the shelves are adjustable. These provide us with lots of shelf space. I didn't use all of the shelves, because some of our books and materials are tall. We now have 10 shelves, plus the cube shelf with 9 spaces.

I've put some things out, and I want to keep it all easy to access for Sean and myself. I'm still deciding on the arrangement of materials.

And as much as I would love to get rid of the bins, those are still full. Ugh.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Mittens for Koalas

I was browsing Facebook today and saw a Washington Post story about Koalas that have been injured in bush fires in Australia.

The images were heart wrenching.

I showed the story to Sean, and asked if he thought it would be a good idea to help. It's pretty easy, all we need to do is make some little mittens for them. I explained that it is their paws that are burned badly, and they have to keep healing salve on them, and keep them covered with cotton mittens. These are tree-dwelling, tree-hugging animals, so having healthy paws is essential to their lives.
He wanted help, so I suggested that I could put a call out to our little homeschool group that meets at our house on Thursdays for free-play time.

I emailed the group to see if any of those moms might have a sewing machine, because mine isn't in working order, and explained the idea. I asked the moms to talk to their children to be sure they would want to participate. (None of them use Montessori, but they are pretty Montessori inclined and just don't realize it ;-))

I got a quick response from a mom who does have a sewing machine, and can bring it to our next play day. I'm looking around for old T-shirts and old sheets, which the IFAW site says are perfect for this project. The material must be 100 precent cotton. I can only imagine the pain the poor animals are experiencing.

The mittens will be distributed by IFAW to wildlife caregivers, and vets who treat the burned Koalas.

I've been looking for a service project that would resonate with Sean, and this seems to be the one. I think I will print out color photos from the story to have on display as they work, so they are focused on why their work is so important.

My hope is that this will be a child-led project with minimal adult interference. They are all old enough to use scissors, and a sewing machine.

I'll post more on this subject next week, after we meet on Thursday. In the meantime, if you have a group, or are part of a Montessori school setting, we hope you will consider this as a project. If you cannot commit to the sewing, raising money to donate would be a good idea as well.