Saturday, December 26, 2009

Winter Break Learning ~ Series and Parallel Circuits

I spent some time this afternoon organizing the laundry room. I dumped all the old paint jars, washed and dried them, and put them in our shoe boxes ready to be filled and used again in the next term. I also cleared out some old art supplies; I doubt we'll have any use for tempera paint. I discreetly moved some of the lesser quality supplies that we don't use into a donation box.

We have a counter in the laundry room that has mostly functioned as a horizontal catch-all, despite the presence of several baskets that are intended to contain specific items such as dog paraphernalia and bike gear. I cleared everything off the counter and designated it our science station, with strong admonitions to keep it clear.

This year J-Baby received several science-themed kits; Snap Circuits, a crystal growing kit, an underwater volcano kit, and an artificial snow kit. He also has several kits that we've acquired over the years and not worked with (there have been many that we have done). I put all the kits into the cabinet above the counter.

The boys were chomping at the bit to "do science" so we opened a simple traffic light kit designed to teach about circuits. The boys and Papa created a series and then a parallel circuit, drew diagrams, and recorded their observations in the boys' main lesson books. They had so much fun that they said the want to "do science" every night.

This kind of science generally falls outside of the Waldorf curriculum for the boys' grade level; however, I have learned not to interfere with Papa when he wants to bring something to the boys. He handles most of their history lessons and a lot of their science, two subjects that he enjoys and has expertise in. I wouldn't want to stop this kind of learning in the name of remaining "pure" Waldorf; the boys need to see Papa and I as a team with both of us contributing toward their education. I've met far too many mothers who feel burdened with homeschooling but either don't know how to ask for help or are afraid that their partners won't do it "right".

J-Baby has a strong interest in science; he would truly rather read a science book than a work of fiction. His passion for science may fade in the future, but for now it is something to marvel at and nourish.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Chomping at the Bit

We haven't even celebrated all of our holidays yet and I find myself thinking ahead to our next block. I am so pleased to have returned to Waldorf/Enki learning! We have a long multiplication/long division mathematics block next and my head is spinning with ideas. We'll mostly be working with the A Little Garden Flower Math e-book; I think my boys would enjoy a story so I am going to take the plunge and write my own.

I'm also really excited because I re-purchased The Christopherus Waldorf Curriculum Overview for Homeschoolers by Donna Simmons and have been getting some good ideas. One thing I've decided to drop is worksheet practice for skills work; we're going to work together more with manipulatives, oral problems, games, and our blackboard. J-Baby really struggles with his practice work as his hands get fatigued with small motor work and I would rather he spend time on his journal and form drawing (which will help him long-term). I am looking forward to rereading the entire book from cover-to-cover.

I feel so confident about the choice to embrace Waldorf fully once more that I took a leap of faith and purchased Live Education Grade 5 for next fall. Yes, I bought it 8 months early; I want to have a lot of time to prepare our grade 5 year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Please Don't Give My Children Gift Cards

I just realized that we will see several people over the holidays who will feel compelled, for whatever reasons, to give my children gifts. The thing is, they don't know us well, don't know our family philosophy, and don't know what they boys might want, so they give gift cards. Need I remind anyone of the debacle this caused in the toy store last year?

I do understand why they give the gifts. Indeed, my dad told me the other night (last night?) that there will be another family at our Christmas celebration, one that he has unofficially adopted as his own. We see this family a couple of times a year but really don't know them. Still, I know that I must provide gifts for those children just as I do for all of the other children. I don't know them, nor what they are interested in or what they like, but I must come up with something. I won't resort to gift cards but I recognize that they are the default gift for many. When in doubt I try to give food gifts or art supplies, both of which are meant to be consumed. I've yet to meet many people who don't love receiving a tin of truly homemade chocolate chunk cookies.

The thing is, I'm starting to think it would be better to give cash if one doesn't have enough information to choose a thoughtful gift. Cash in hand can be applied to something the child already knows he or she wants, rather than needing to take them to a specific store in search of something they didn't know they wanted (and probably don't really want at all). I personally choose not to give cash to children under 13, but in this case I would rather my children receive cash than gift cards.

I need a plan, soon. I could buy the gift cards off the children; this works well if the cards are for a store such as Target where I can buy socks and tooth brushes, but is very costly to me if it is to a store such as Toys R Us (where I would be hard pressed to find anything we need or want). In that case I suppose I could regift the gift cards, perpetuating the whole gift card thing but at least avoiding it for my own children. I could gather all cards and cash and offer to replace them with an experience the boys have really been wanting.

What I don't want to do is take my children, gift cards in hand, to a big box toy store or other retailer. I remember all too well how badly that went last year; I think we all cried tears of frustration that day and I'm pretty sure I vowed never to go through the doors again.

Sometimes it is very difficult to be different. To not want to fill our home with too many toys (and too many of them plastic junk). To not expect a 9YO or 10YO to be able to go to a store and calmly choose their purchase without getting overwhelmed by the choices and worrying that all of the other choices were better. To not want our holiday to be about how much was spent and how many gifts were received.

Follow up: Each boy received $10 from their great-aunt, something that was expected. I am happy to say that they didn't receive a single gift card!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

And He's Knitting ...

Proof that waiting can work and that skills are so much easier to learn when the child is ready. I have introduced knitting twice before with frustrating results. Today T-Guy was bored, I suggested knitting, and he was making stitches on his own within 5 minutes! Not only are his fingers better able to move in a coordinated fashion, his brain understands the sequence and can repeat it reliably.

The verse, as best I could remember it:

In the front door, out through the back
Run right round and grab your sack
Back through the front door
and off jumps Jack.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Grade 4, Week 14 ~ Hits and Misses

Despite my love for Waldorf and Enki education, I still have a strong pull to the philosophy behind unschooling. I have never stopped believing that children learn best when it is their own choice. I believe that children are born with a natural desire to learn; humans wouldn't have gotten where we are now without the desire to learn, and later to mate.

It can be really hard to mesh an unschooling philosophy with any method that stems from a group education model, no matter how holistic the method. So sometimes we have hits and sometimes we have misses. One difference is that I rarely stick with the misses; if the material isn't speaking to my children it really doesn't matter how developmentally appropriate it is.

Last week we made and read maps, and reading maps was actually more interesting to my boys than making their own. I was able to observe that T-Guy has a far better sense of direction and of our neighborhood than J-Baby does, at least so far.

This week I really didn't know where to go with the local geography. If we are talking terrain and native plants, my boys are intimately familiar with our immediate area, so I branched out. We drew pictures of beaches, mountains, and deserts, but the boys weren't really into it. At some point T-Guy told me that he doesn't really like studying maps, local geography, or even social studies (although somehow history is not the same thing as social studies ~ he loves history). He expressed a desire to get back to language arts and math.

I shared an article with Papa entitled Schooling: The Hidden Agenda by Daniel Quinn. Here is a small excerpt (please go read the whole article, which is actually a talk that was given):

But there's another reason why people abhor the idea of children learning what they want to learn when they want to learn it. They won't all learn the same things! Some of them will never learn to analyze a poem! Some of them will never learn to parse a sentence or write a theme! Some of them will never read Julius Caesar! Some will never learn geometry! Some will never dissect a frog! Some will never learn how a bill passes Congress! Well, of course, this is too horrible to imagine. It doesn't matter that 90% of these students will never read another poem or another play by Shakespeare in their lives. It doesn't matter that 90% of them will never have occasion to parse another sentence or write another theme in their lives. It doesn't matter that 90% retain no functional knowledge of the geometry or algebra they studied. It doesn't matter that 90% never have any use for whatever knowledge they were supposed to gain from dissecting a frog. It doesn't matter that 90% graduate without having the vaguest idea how a bill passes Congress. All that matters is that they've gone through it!

The entire piece is just a Wow! Go read it now.

I have been in this place before, contemplating where to move with our homeschooling. I know that radical unschooling isn't the answer. My children need rhythm (I firmly believe that all human beings need rhythm) and Waldorf is one way to bring that rhythm to a child. Indeed, Waldorf education does bring to children things that they might not learn anyway, as well as a good method of bringing these subjects to the children.

But ...

What is the point of introducing things to my boys that they have no interest in (the misses)? Of requiring skills practice and mastery practice if they view it as torture, as J-Baby does? Is it possible to move to a place of more trust without sacrificing the rhythm J-Baby so desperately needs (children who have difficulty regulating themselves need rhythm more than those who naturally create it for themselves).

Our home learning has been going pretty well. T-Guy likes practice work and journalling. Our measurement main lesson was a solid hit, though not a home run. The boys love hearing A History of US as well as The Story of the World. They are enjoying their assigned reading.

We continue to simplify our home and our time, giving our children a life with less stress. We work with a strong daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal rhythm. In all honestly, we have a lot going for us. We're happy together and we have a strong foundation; it would be hard for a child not the thrive in such a family.

We decided to take our holiday break a week early and thus to extend it for an extra week. The boys were dancing around the house singing "no school until the new year" and it was fun and silly. I didn't have to worry that they won't be learning anything ~ it's simply impossible.

I don't know exactly where we will be going in the new year. We're not embracing radical unschooling and we aren't abandoning Waldorf/Enki education. We're just fine tuning it. I actually think that I'll have a hit with every main lesson block through the end of the year with the exception of state history, and that may only require that I find many good books and approach it as story telling. But I need to figure out the rest of it, the practice and copy work and all the things that tend to fall flat with the boys.

I don't even know if I'll be blogging about it. I blog for myself, mainly (which is a good thing as I don't know that more than 2 people read this blog), and I don't know that I need the record. I'm thinking of focusing more on photographs and then having a photo book published at the end of the year.