Friday, May 30, 2014

Reading with a friend

Joseph helping Ezra with his reading lesson. senk 2014
Joseph loves to read. He has started his first chapter book, "Charlotte's Web" by E.B. White, and is often found sitting on the couch reading some of his favorite children's books.

Recently, while I was breastfeeding our four-month-old, Gratian, Ezra requested his reading lesson. Unable to help him at that precise moment, I was astonished to hear Joseph say, "I'll help you, Ezra!"

So, with "The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading" by Jessie Wise and Sara Buffington in hand, Joseph turned to the appropriate page, and started reading the Instructor's directions to his younger brother. Ezra was delighted - as evidence of all-smiles reveals - and followed along really well.

But this isn't the first time Joseph has read to his brother. In fact, he often likes to grab his favorite Berenstain Bears' book, cozy on the couch, and read to me and Ezra while I am nursing the baby. He will even ask us to choose our favorites so he can read them to us.

Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise co-authored a great book, "The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home," which has been really helpful in our homeschooling adventure in the Shenandoah Valley. In a world where literacy is vital, reading (including comprehension) is one of the core components of Joseph's education. Bauer and Wise state in "The Well-Trained Mind": "A classical education relies heavily on the written word. As a parent-educator, your number one goal should be to have your child reading fluently when she starts first-grade work" (2009:31).

It's exciting to see Joseph only a handful of lessons away from the end of "The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading." We have been working through this book for so long that it is a definite measure of how much Joseph has learned over the last two years. So, as we look toward first grade for Joseph and preschool for Ezra, we anticipate the lessons to come - those learned as a student, but also as a parent-educator.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Dinosaur delights

Dinosaurs about to meet an erupting volcano.  senk 2013
My boys love dinosaurs. They have little dinosaur figurines, which they commandeered from my college dorm-room-door birthday decorating days. They have larger dinosaurs, which they used during our volcano eruptions earlier in the school year. They have dinosaur pillowcases (courtesy of a Grandma who loves to sew). So, it only makes sense that one of Joey's Exploration units would be on Dinosaurs.

Designed as a thematic unit, the Dinosaur exploration allows Joey to learn about something he likes, while also practicing life skills he needs. Reading and math are at the top of our list when it comes to learning. So, all of our lessons center around these main concepts. But, when looking at thematic lessons, it can be difficult to know what resources are particularly good for a specific topic. Of course, Google and Pinterest can proffer ideas - but then, you have to sift through the overload of information. Here is a look at what resources and activities worked well for my Kindergartener and Preschooler.

The core of the lesson centers around a fun activity book entitled, "I love dinosaurs Giant Activity Book" by Let's Go Green. It's particularly good for my preschooler, but Joey loves it too. It is not overly challenging, but provides great connection points to talk about more complex concepts: like carnivores vs. herbivores vs. omnivores. Joey had fun applying what he learned to identify the different dinosaurs via one of those describing words, based on what they ate. We took reading exercises from "National Geographic Kids Ultimate Dinopedia: The Most Complete Dinosaur Reference Ever" by Don Lessem and "National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Dinosaurs." We had acquired the latter at The Green Valley Bookfair for a fabulous price and it was particularly useful for Joey to practice reading. The former has a great introduction on habitats, fossil formation, and other basic dinosaur information. Then, there is a puzzler deck from The World Almanac for Kids on Dinosaur Science! which captured Joey's attention with mind-bending questions, kind of like Brain Quest in format.

Joey and Ezra had fun hands-on activities, too. Using handmade play dough, they pressed their toy dinosaurs' feet in it to springboard a discussion on trace fossils. Russell made soft pretzel dough and helped the boys fashion coils into dinosaur footprints. (They were delicious - especially sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar!) We had storytime with Jane Yolen and Mark Teague's creations, such as "How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?" and "How Do Dinosaurs Play With Their Friends?" The boys even got to try to make up their on How Do Dinosaurs... book ideas! Story time always leads into great discussions about authors and illustrators (who they are and what they do), which are key concepts in Kindergarten standards. And we are already anticipating field trips in the coming months to some museums with dinosaur-related fossils and displays. For those of us that live on the East Coast, "Dinosaurs of the East Coast" by David B Weishampel and Luther Young has been invaluable in tracking information on seeing sites firsthand. And, we've carefully selected videos that can give a look at dinosaur life - all thanks to Shenandoah County Public Library and Netflix. Do be careful what you choose, though, for those little guys or gals - we, of course, perused most of the episodes of Dinosaur Train and came across dinosaur videos through the Discovery Channel, too. We even bought a dinosaur tree to plant - at least that's how it was advertised : )

So, let curiosity and imagination flow; explore dinosaurs like a 4-or-6-year-old aspiring paleontologist; and then post some fun dinosaur activities that you do, too.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Integrated Learning Rocks!

The boys love hands-on science.  senk 2013
If you were to ask Joey what his favorite homeschooling lessons are, he would look at you quite resolutely and reply, "science." Not only are his science lessons hands-on, but they're infused with integrated learning. Joey reads and writes in his journal about his latest exploration topic (currently constellations), follows directions to assemble kits and models (recently an inexpensive microscope kit), and becomes an eye-witness for how science works (such as, observing the transition between physical states of water from solid to liquid to gas).

Joey will spend hours putting together a wheelbarrow, parking gate, letter scale, crane, and various other levers-based designs with his Engino Mechanical Science Building Kit or using his Little Labs series Intro to Engineering test the speed of a racing car he built as it traveled down inclines and explore concepts of engineering on land, with air, and in water. It's amazing to see how easily he follows the directions in the accompanying booklets and revels over the challenges they provide.

But, Joey isn't just learning science through reading or assembling kits. He also has science integrated with mathematical principles. For Christmas, dear friends (and neighbors) bought Joey a gem of book: Addition Adventures by MindWare. This booklet weaves together addition and orienteering in order to discover the answer to a posed problem (such as, which clump of grass has a hidden 4-leaf clover). Joey solves the addition problem and then uses the answer to move along the grid in the specified compass direction. The trail twists and turns around the grid, until it stops on the right answer. Of course, my almost-6-year-old likes to provide more of a challenge for himself and answers the addition problems in Roman numerals, but you don't have to. {Nota been: if you get the Addition Adventures book, make a note that there is a typo on page 28. Joey discovered it! Number 20 should be "9 + ___ = 11 (E)"}

Levers with Grandmommy - how exciting!  senk 2013
Suffice it to say, I love integrated learning! Outside of the grade-specified school setting, learning is not rigid and specific, but dynamic and integrated. I hope Joey and I can continue to embrace life-long learning and find ways to link together subject matter, rather than filter them into remote topics for study.

What are your thoughts on integrated learning? How do you find ways to bring subject matter together rather than rend them into separate categories?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Practice: a part of life

Surprise note from Joey.  senk 2013
Humans have a habit of making practice a punishment or a dull task. Often, it causes the opposite of anticipation and, many times, it can lead to procrastination. But, a more positive look at practice yields heartening responses.

Journaling is a part of Joey's homeschool curriculum. Now, when I say "curriculum," I use the term loosely - because, everything he's learning is an amalgamation of resources and manipulative (often ones unfamiliar in a public school setting). Joey, and Ezra for that matter, has a composition notebook, which he fills with fun facts, thoughts, and tidbits from lessons throughout the year. Two to three times a week, he adds to the journal. You can ascertain his thoughts on the solar system, what he knows from German, his illustrated perspective on an erupting volcano, his favorite line from "Green Eggs and Ham," et cetera - all from leafing through his journal.

Joey's journal not only provides a grand assessment tool, tracking his progress in handwriting (for example), but also a tool for practice. As Joey learns about the world around him, he reads books (with increasingly less help from his Mommy) about the subjects he is learning and practices his writing and comprehension by journaling about what he learns. With the school year half over already, Joey is showing how all that practice is paying off.

Earlier this week, my husband called me from the kitchen to the stairwell. "You have to come see this," he exclaimed.

Waddling a bit due to the weight of a nearly-completed pregnancy, I came to the lower landing and noticed, scrawled on a piece of scrap paper, the words: "Joey's in bed."

We both smiled and laughed at the secret note our Kindergartener had left us - revealing his whereabouts. There was something more though. I was also happy to see Joey applying what he was learning - not through drills or memorized rules - but, through making practice a part of his life.

Joey doesn't see practice as drab or painful, but as exciting and natural. By incorporating learning strategies and materials based on his interests, while reinforcing key concepts pertinent for him to learn at his academic and cognitive level, Joey is flourishing in the homeschooling environment. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Let your child decide, too

At least twice a week, our homeschooling foray heads into opportunity for, what I call, "Project Exploration" time. We explore a topic that the boys have chosen, based on brainstorming sessions and developing questions as they learn. These Explore opportunities have led to creating volcanoes to erupt, Newton color wheel experiments, and even research on the planets in our solar system. Recently, our Project Exploration time encompassing learning about the planets that orbit our Sun, including dwarf planets. Ceres and Eris are as much a part of the solar system as the four Inner Planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) and the four Outer Planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) to my inquisitive five-year-old son. And this learning is all based on his interests and questions.

But, being truly open to life-long learning and allowing my son to develop his own path in the world means accepting him and some of his sometimes zany ideas for who and what they are. And often these explorations lead down paths that infringe upon cultural and societal norms. Now, I'm not talking about raising a rebel (though it's good to rebel against some things) or an insensitive (the world has too many of those) or someone that tries anything (especially morally or physically harmful choices) for no reason. I am talking about respecting the individual that God created so that God can work on my son's heart the most.

Sometimes, this pops out in basic observation due to modeling. We all model a type of person, with both flaws and sparkling gems. My hope is that as Joseph sorts through the mesh of models he meets on a daily basis, he can learn to discern those worth repeating and those worth rethinking. For example, donating hair. I started donating my hair after the last time I snipped it my senior year in high school. Mother was furious and I became determined to find a better way to use something so basic that God gave me. So, six donations later, I'm still growing my hair for children suffering from hair loss and in memory or honor of women and men that have suffered (or died) from cancer in my life. I've known Russell for almost all of those donations and he finally decided to curtail cultural acceptances and grow his own hair to donate. We didn't expect anything else and we definitely didn't prompt others to do it - we just allowed the conviction to work in our own hearts. But, over the summer, when I was lining Joey and Ezra up for their usual haircuts, Joey refused.

"No!" Joey said. "You can't cut my hair."

"Oh, I'll just trim it up then," I replied.

"No, I don't want you to." And, my five-year-old ran into the house.

When I found him, I asked why he was so scared of the trimmer and scissors.  I had given him haircuts for years without this type of reserve.

"I want to donate my hair," he said, with resoluteness in his eyes.

I told him that just because Mommy and Daddy were donating their hair did not mean he had to do it. But, my five-year-old refused to listen. Ezra was quite content to munch crackers while I buzzed and snipped his golden locks; but, months later, Joey still defies sitting in the trimming chair. He has felt a call, upon which I cannot impose.

Joey's conviction to show compassion and love to others is something we should encourage. I wish more people had as much gumption to allow their principles to guide them toward what's right, even in the face of ridicule and nonacceptance. But, it takes courage to do something against the normal flow of societal standards.

So, in this homeschooling journey, I try to take my son seriously and explore his questions even when they are inconvenient. If your child wants to learn a certain language (such as the German Joey wanted to learn), don't steer him toward something more "useful," let him learn the language about which he has an innate interest. If your son wants to learn gymnastics instead of football, let him. If your daughter wants to explore STEM subjects, be supportive of her. American culture has some long-standing stereotypes and biases that need to be confronted. Encourage your child to pursue the interests God is prompting in that precious heart - He knows far better than we do.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Complementary Color Monsters

Following our foray into the world of spectrums, Joey is still enamored with color. So, we've been savoring some basic concepts of color theory in our little part of the world.

Joey showing the color wheel - Ezra, all smiles.  senk 2013
As you know from reading a previous post ("Try, try again..."), we explored the primary and secondary colors during our look at how a rainbow is formed, which also involved Newton's study of spectrums and the color wheel. Joey created three different magnets - on each, he smeared paints on notecards to discover which primary colors produced which secondary colors. His delightful oohs and aahs were well worth the experiment. Seeing firsthand that red and blue combine to make violet in pigments was a joy not only for him, but for me too as an observer of Joey's experiment.

Mr. Blue and Mrs. Orange Monster.  senk 2013
We made good use of recycled materials and donated craft supplies (thank you, Grandma and JoEtta!) to create quite a parade of monsters, most recently. But, these are monsters with a meaning. The challenge? Joey and Ezra had to help me create monsters that display complementary color pairs. We studied four main ones - three based on Newton's color wheel (red - green, orange - blue, and yellow - violet) and white - black. The end result was an array of Complementary Color Monsters, constructed from toilet paper rolls and paints and myriad add-ons (glitter, goggly eyes, etc), that remind my little tykes of a basic color theory concept.

Although I did not get into the more complex ideas of subtractive vs. additive complementary colors, for an older audience, you can easily adapt and add to a unit on basic color theory. I found Ian Sidaway's "Color Mixing Bible" to be particularly helpful in providing illustrations for my Kindergartener and toddler. This book incorporates different mediums in art, too, which is great for showing how color looks with different textures resulting from various artist's tools.

Joey & Ezra, good playmates.  senk 2013
But another fabulous component to the Complementary Color Monsters exploration was the concept of complementary, itself. According to Merriam-Webster, "complementary" means: "completing something else or making it better; going together well; working well together." The very idea of complementary colors includes enhancing the color opposite on the color wheel. Thus, this lesson also includes concepts of ethics and relational matters. The boys saw the monsters as being complementary to one another in terms of being good "playmates" or being kind to one another. And, we were able to talk about how the boys could be complementary playmates, too - using kind words and actions toward one another.

There are so many ways to apply color theory in our day to day adventures. Hopefully you'll find some, too, and add a comment on how complementary colors enhanced your day.

Complementary Color Monsters.  senk 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

It's not quite what you think: exploring Native American life

The boys squat in a woven wigwam.  senk 2013
I looked at the paper-and-stapler-based strategy More Than Moccasins: A Kid's Activity Guide To Traditional North American Indian Life by Laurie Carlson (1994:13-14) suggested for a wigwam and frowned. "Surely we can do a little better than that," I thought. So, we donned boots and sleeved-shirts and headed to the harvested corn rows in our garden. Then, together, we bent, tied, and wove corn stalks, Johnson grass, small okra stalks, large gourd leaves, and clumps of grasses to fabricate a wigwam, which the boys could play in rather than just hold.

Bugs swarmed, dust stuck to our sweaty arms, and our hands, hair, and faces were browned from dirt and crumbled fronds. It was mid-morning and the sun was just about the get hot. If Joey had been in a public school, the teacher would likely have chosen the simpler paper-and-stapler-based craft, which would have been constructed at his table and in air-conditioning while surrounded by tons of other friendly and happy Kindergarteners. But, in our homeschool setting, we mucked outside and created something life-sized that two brothers could enjoy for days. And, we needed a shower.

The Virginia History SOLs for Kindergarten includes knowledge of Indians - more specifically, Powhatan and Pocahontas. But, our family lives in the Shenandoah Valley, not along the coast, where colonists would have met Powhatan Native Americans. Here, Souian-speaking Native Americans inhabited. I want Joey to learn about Native Americans, but I want him to learn about those that lived where we are - or at least as close to where we are as we can get - in addition to other tribes that inhabited the areas coinciding to the United States of America. But, how do we do that when there was so little written about them?

I've pieced together a curriculum from what I can find. It's non-traditional and pulls from myriad resources: books to a living village to Internet sources. I try to pull together activities and learning that are as closely connected to what might have been going on in this area as possible. Of course, the Shenandoah Valley was prized foremost for its rich hunting grounds, which even yielded elk at one time. But, in the surrounding areas what would life have been like in a small village? Although my list of resources is by no means complete, it gives a springboard that may be helpful to other families looking for resources on Native Americans (beyond those encountered by the early settlers).

"Journey to 10,000 B.C." - Paleo-Indians were the first place to start after we briefly covered the history of the Earth (which will be revisited over and over). Russell actually found some fascinating videos on the history of the earth (one a time-lapse video; another an addictive music video). While there is so much more for Joey to learn about the Clovis culture, we have just started exploring information that will be helpful in his understanding of this culture. We're fortunate to live near the Thunderbird Archaeological Site in Warren County, which is a wealth of information - but, now to figure out how to tap into it.

A majority of our focus, though, has been on Native American groups more contemporary with the first European settlers. There are a variety of books I'm consulting. Some provide a broad conceptual idea of Native Americans in Northern America, such as Villages of the Algonquian, Siouan, and Caddoan Tribes West of the Mississippi by David Bushnell (1922:43-44), The Siouan Tribes of the East by James Mooney (1894), and a plethora of Archaeology books. Indian America: A Geography of North American Indians by Marian Ney (1977:4-5, 48-49) provides a a geographic distribution of North American Indians and, to my joy, of the Indian confederations of Virginia (including Manahoac, which was likely nearest the Shenandoah Valley). Other resources have provided activity ideas, such as More Than Moccasins, which I mentioned earlier, and History Pockets: Native Americans (which correlates to state and common core state standards). Yet other books have given a voice to Native Americans for our family: a huge handful of children's books surrounding legends, American Indian Myths and Legends edited by Richard Erdoes & Alfonso Ortiz, and Great Speeches by Native Americans edited by Bob Blaisdell.

Monacan Village at Natural Bridge.  senk 2013
Other useful resources have been on-line or in-person. That is, we visited the Monacan Village living museum at Natural Bridge in Rockbridge County, VA. The Monacan Indian Nation provides a good resource for historical and contemporary information on the Monacans, who constituted a second of the three confederations of Virginia (yes, you've probably guessed the third already: Powhatan). Virginia Tribes from Manahoac to Tutelo is an on-line resource with basic information on Virginian tribes.

With all that I pulled together, Joey and Ezra have been able to engage their senses as we explore the culture and history of Native Americans. They've worn clothing indicative of cultural attire. They've snacked on corn popped and drizzled with maple syrup, sun-dried raisins, and roasted sunflower seeds. We fabricated a wigwam in our yard. We've listened to stories and music indicative of Native American life. We've toured a Monacan village and made Native American games from shells, pottery, and sticks. And we continue to explore these fascinating lifestyles. Throughout the entire process, we've all learned that authenticity (or as close as we can make it) enhances learning.

There is so much to learn and so much richness in exploring Amerindian cultures. So, instead of just talking about Powhatan and Pocahontas, dare to explore more of what Indian America was (and is) like. Please feel free to add a comment about other resources you have found to be useful in studying Native American culture, history, and life.