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.