homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Words: A progress report

Cayden (3) is learning to write, which is fun enough on its own, but especially because it's been almost entirely interest-driven. I had made no specific effort to teach him his letters, either in recognition or execution. No flashcards, no drills, no handwriting lessons. (And no premeditation, it just kind of shook out that way...) What he has had is plenty of family story time (at this point, our reading material encompasses everything from pictures-only board books to subject-specific nonfiction) and observation. We did recite the letters of his name until he could repeat them. It was his own idea to pick those letters out on the computer keyboard. Imagine my delight several months ago when I returned to an open window to find the word "cayden" greeting me. It was quite a while before he decided to try his hand at physical writing, but sure enough on one chilly day I found a shaky "CAYDEN" scrawled on a foggy windowpane...and "MOM" on a second. He has recently moved on to try his hand at pencil-and-paper, and delights in inventing verbal spellings for imaginary words. ("Mom, what does C-D-X-P-2 spell??") He's starting to grasp the idea of the symbology having meaning. It's a very exciting time. It's also a bit validating...illustrating that a child will seek skills when he has a need/desire for them, and that academic knowledge need not be forced upon an unwilling or unready mind.

(AKA...the bulk of my rationale for homeschooling. But we'll just acknowledge that soapbox today; no need to get up on it.)

Theo (6) is continuing on the road to literacy. He finds the idea of "schoolwork" appealing and will often request worksheets or handwriting practice. He will take letter-by-letter dictation for short periods, but has limited patience for it. And he absolutely balks at the idea of attempting to create words beyond the few he has memorized. We play all sorts of word games (not because I am trying to Teach Him Something so much as because I'm a huge word nerd who enjoys these things--my 13yo stepson and I still goof off in that way) and it's becoming apparent that he isn't quite ready. He needs some more development of phonemic awareness before he can really make that next leap. To that end, I'm starting to focus my games a little more specifically, so I'll be able to tell when that starts to "click" for him.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Enjoying the view

Okay...I'm catching up on uploading photos from my camera to the computer, which means I'll probably be doing a bit of post-dated image sharing for a while. Here's a nice holiday memory.

I have an ungodly-huge collection of Christmas ornaments, courtesy of my very generous mother. As I've been collecting since, well, birth...the themes of the ornaments are like a museum exhibit of my various interests. Now that I have children, we're trying to build new "us" memories, so many of my old ornaments stay packed away...but a few do make it on to the tree nonetheless.

Witness part of my Star Trek collection, as displayed by my darling husband. Captain James T. Kirk (TOS) admires rehabilitated Borg "Seven of Nine" (Voyager).
No. This is not at all inappropriate. (snicker)

Saturday, January 16, 2010


I live in a culture which values speed and quantity. Do more, quicker. Achieve more, sooner. Slowing down and living with intention (or at least conscious reflection) is for fringey types, and can be looked upon as an excuse for laziness.

Or at least it can feel that way sometimes.

My beliefs about education and child-rearing have been in a constant state of re-evaluation for years--starting well before I even dreamed of having children (ask me sometime why I dropped out of the Education major I'd gone to college to pursue) and intensifying once I finally did. I don't believe in One Right Way. The notions that I once valued I've since questioned and often discarded in favor of approaches that can raise some eyebrows...especially when they deviate from the norm.

When people who have known me for years hear that I'm homeschooling, it is typical for them to assume that I'm an early-instructing, flashcard-weilding, stuff-their-heads-with-data type of parent. And because of our cultural value on this approach, they often try to offer support with suggestions and well-meaning gifts. Using these tools or pursuing those goals can sometimes be difficult to resist. When my son's age-peers are being drilled in the three R's, it is very tempting to panic that I'm not *teaching*...and therefore he's not *learning*...and to pull out the workbooks to give our learning journey some sort of quantifiable Evidence. Insecure, suddenly, with just watching my child sort his toys, I instead puzzle over whether I "should" compel him to complete a worksheet demonstrating the ability to classify though that is somehow of more value.

The spectre of Reporting To The State looms ever closer, as well. At some point, I'm going to be required to quantify learning, and in an easily-recognizable, culturally-expected form. Even outside the box, we're often sucked into playing the game by the standards and rules of the System. You're not learning unless you're Doing School.

But, I keep reminding myself, we are. Learning, that is.

What's enormous part of my mission in homeschooling is to postpone the "earlier is better" notion that has crippled this nation's educational system. If kids are failing to grasp information, the answer seems to invariably be to work harder and demanding proficience at an even younger age. It's absurd, and I reject it.


All of this is way too much background for a little anecdote from our lives. My eldest (now 6) recently remarked, "I have really learned a LOT!"

Well, that was neat to hear. We haven't done much of the same things that his age-peers are doing in their Kindergarten classes, but yes, we are learning some incredible things! I expected him to mention the different types of dinosaurs, the feeding habits of various bats, or some other fascinating and specific and "impressive to trot out at social gatherings" trivia. But he continued, "I learned to tie my shoes and zip my jacket and buckle my seatbelt all by myself!"

Bang. Perspective.

Reminder, folks: Life is not all about (nor even "mostly" about) academic learning. It has its place, and its value. But these are CHILDREN we are talking about. When we hear studies about how much learning is possible in the early years, we seem to want to take advantage of that "sponge" period by throwing data at our kids. What we should be doing is recognizing all of the much more difficult learning that they're already tasking themselves with:

Learning to crawl, walk, run, climb.
Learning basic body-care (wash your hands, use the toilet, get dressed).
Learning to speak, proficiently, in the language of their environment. Or several.
Learning to use caution in physically navigating their environment.
Learning how to behave appropriately in a myriad of social situations, each with its own set of expected behaviors.
Learning how to effectively communicate their own needs.

Shall I go on?

They're learning how to be people! Should I interrupt their role-playing games or "aimless" investigations to drill them with curriculum? There will be appropriate times for that...and I am not anti-teaching (man, I can be pedantic with the best of 'em)...but I'm not willing to put such a heavy focus on the "book learning" that I rob them of the "life learning". Nor do I believe that any of us should discount any experience which is not part of a curriculum as without merit.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

That's my boy!

(Yeah, yeah...long hiatus, sincere apology. You know the drill. You also know that there were some holidays in there, so we'll all get over it. I'm back. Onward and upward. Or something like that.)

So. My eldest. He's 6. And he craves knowledge. This kid is such a sponge for information, it's often like watching Johnny Five demanding "need input! more input!!"*

Okay, maybe not quite like that, but it can feel that way. I could read to him all day long and he'd be perfectly happy. He adores stories, but also frequently chooses nonfiction and reference books. At 4, he was successfully using field guides to identify (sans reading) songbirds in our back yard. And his favorite thing at the moment is documentaries.

Case in point: For Christmas, I bought him a set of dinosaur DVDs produced by the BBC. The day after Christmas, he watched one of them five times. He will still watch it up to three times in any given day, if allowed. The kid knows how to immerse.

But it's not just because it's about dinosaurs, his current obsession. I had just the happiest "this is why we homeschool" moment earlier this week. He had gone downstairs to hang out with his father, and came up asking for the "address" book. I handed it to him, and he looked puzzled. "There aren't any boats in here!" Well, no...why would there be? "Daddy said to ask for the...DADDY! I can't say it!!"

From the basement, Daddy shouted, "HATCHEPSUT!"

*twinkly lights go on in Mom's brain*

Now you're talking my language! Hatchepsut (a ruler of the 18th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt: the longest-reigning female regent, and the only to declare herself Pharaoh) was one of the remarkable people I studied in college and then went on to "immerse in" the point that one of my early Internet handles was her chosen throne name, Maatkare. Why the heck was my 6-year-old asking about HER?

It turns out that he and his father had been watching a NOVA special ("Building Pharaoh's Ship") in which a team of archaeologists and shipbuilders had teamed up to recreate one of the boats used in her famed expedition to Punt, and then tested its seaworthiness. Cool! I found one of my books on Ancient Egypt and following the broadcast, Daddy and Theo spent quite some time looking at photos of bas-reliefs and discussing what they'd' seen.

In true "immersion" fashion (and typical "repetition" young-child approach), the next night he wanted to watch the show again. In an era of DVDs and streaming video, my kids really don't grasp the concept of broadcast. (We tell good-old-days stories about how we had to wait ALL YEAR for the Charlie Brown specials, and what a big deal it was when they aired.) So, I helped him search and sure enough, we found the video online. He sat and watched the entire thing again (with me, this time--yay! It was really cool!) and then went on to watch a second NOVA special about the mysterious Microraptor (back to the dinosaurs!).

All of this has me geeked out on so many levels. Not only is my kid fascinated by off-the-beaten-path subjects, but he is a motivated and resourceful autodidact. Instead of just asking "why" of his parents, he knows how and where to find more information, and actively pursues it. And we are both blessed enough to be involved in some of it, learning right along with him and reinforcing his own enthusiasm through our own.

* * * * *

*Geeky side note: I couldn't find the clip I *really* wanted, which was Johnny devouring books at Stephanie's house. However, I am beyond excited to learn from my brief YouTube shorts that there are folks out there who have built their own Johnny Fives. AWESOME. :)