Posted in Education, Family, teaching

Kind of-Sort of-Unschooling

Unschooling seemed too out there for me when I first read about it. To be fair, homeschooling seemed too out there when I first thought about actually doing it. But unschooling was waaaaay out there. I read two or three articles about it and just went on my way. No curriculum? No lesson plans? No schedule? I can’t function like that, how would she even learn?

After a few months of homeschooling in the traditional sense (ie curriculum that mirrors traditional school) for my five-year-old, I am now thinking more about the theories behind unschooling and why they could be helpful for us. I have become a huge fan Sir Ken Robinson over the past few months and have done a lot of research for my continuing education on our public education system. That alone made me question why I was breaking up our learning the way that I was…because I was trying to copy what traditional school was doing. But why? Is that really the best way for them to learn? Who says? (more about that in my book *insert shameful plug here*)

One book about unschooling I enjoyed—>

I had planned our curriculum for the year by August. I had broken it down weekly. Now I wish I could have those two weeks of my life back. It’s been quite the road of frustration and learning on my end. Some of the lessons and ideas Gigi clicked with, others she didn’t. She does have special needs so I try to be as flexible with the timing of things as possible but I wasn’t caving on what we were learning. Maybe I should be? That’s the point of homeschooling in a broad sense is to cater better to your child’s educational needs.

For those of you who may be thinking about it, or just curious about what unschooling is, here’s what I’ve gathered and what I’m concerned with (maybe experienced unschoolers can correct any misconceptions I have):

Interests lead learning- this part makes sense. My daughter digests lessons that she’s picked out better than ones that I do. That seems like a no-brainer. If she’s interested in something she will want to learn, therefore she will learn.

So we are starting to implement that. I’ve left my type A, list making, yearly schedule on hold and asked her what subjects she wants. I had everything planned in the order I assumed she’d be learning at public kindergarten. Plus some extra stuff just for fun. We finished up mammals and we’re going to move to birds. She said no, she wants to learn about frogs. So frogs it is. Frogs and nutcrackers are our focus for December. We will see how the learning develops as we paint nutcrackers, watch the ballet, and maybe go frog hunting if it’s not freezing.

Subjects shouldn’t be divided- The idea is that is all subjects can stem from one original interest. This is not as concrete but as I continue to learn about the concept it is understandable.

For example, one of the first things my daughter said she wanted to learn about was Native Americans. Timing wise that worked out perfectly since we started in October and ended in November. Using videos, books, and worksheets we learned about the Woodland Indians. We learned geography studying a map of America and where their tribes were. We learned science by reading and discussing how they grew crops, the seasons, and the animals in that area. I left out the whole slaughtering of millions of people post the first Thanksgiving and how sordid our history really is. Maybe first grade…

This seems to flow well but the fact that I can’t track what we’re learning ahead of time is something I will have to adjust to. For the purposes of portfolio reviews (every state/county is different but where I live you do two a year and they have to approve your learning milestones) I will have to at least in retrospect try to document what we’ve covered.

Reading and math- My biggest pause with unschooling is the way a child learns to read. Unschooling philosophy says that children will pick it up as you go. Which basically means unschooling uses whole word learning applications. A child learns to read by being read to and then eventually, they will remember words and letters they see and piece them together on their own. Whole word learning isn’t wrong by any means but as a librarian, I feel like the mixed method approach is the best. Maybe? Learning phonics is just as important, at least I’ve always thought so.

Same goes for math. I get that you learn math everywhere- grocery store, counting flowers outside, counting clouds. But what about multiplication? Evens and odds? I get that some mathematical concepts can be a very natural learning process but some may not be so much.

These are the only two areas I think I will continue to try using worksheets and books. To be fair, my daughter does not like writing some days but she really wants to read. We are doing whole word applications with books that she picks out from the library. This has given her the reins on what she is learning to read. We also read My World books or BOB Books.
Are they exciting? No, but I explained to her those books break it down so that she can recognize the words when she sees them again on her own so she asks for them now during our reading time. They do work.

 

Phonics and spelling we will continue to use ABC Mouse, Brainquest, and Scholastic. I use the mix because they all have a different approach. As long as the time we spend on them is not long (like not past ten to fifteen minutes) we can usually get through a letter or sound without any pushback. That was another lesson for me being a first-time homeschooler. I was used to teaching in 45-minute blocks. At home, with one ADHD child with other stimuli around, ten minutes. Get it or get out.

The conclusion to all this is I still am learning the best way to homeschool a special needs child. Our schedule has not been consistent because of my job but that is ending in the next few weeks. I hope to be able to offer her more freedom and more creative learning utilizing her interests. So far, I know we will have to change the spring and summer curriculum I developed. Instead of learning things chronologically to mirror the traditional kindergarten classroom we will be:

A) Doing much more baking and cooking. Gigi loves baking and wants to open her own business. We are going to start writing down our recipes, creating new ones, finding places to bake for (ie nursing homes, her co-op group, family), and how to create more healthy recipes. We have even talked about creating a logo for “business”, she has a thing about logos. This way we are learning math, science, and writing.

B) Gardening/garden planning. We are creating a better play area outside this spring. Part of that play area is going to contain an edible garden. She is going to help with the planning, mapping, design, planting, monitoring, and then cooking with our ingredients. We will be learning geography, science, math, reading, and writing. Also PE!

C) Camping. We tried going camping when Gigi was three and I think my husband and I are still scarred from it. However, I think it may be a field trip idea for this year. Camping provides AMPLE learning experiences.

backyard-bicycle-bike-630770.jpg

After this year is over hopefully I can update you with how it went using her interest as our guide as opposed to the standard instruction of our area. We are basically working off of a very broad schedule of topics. Each month I have two to three main lessons (i.e. phonics, addition, counting to 40) type of goal and then a list of five to ten topics. If she has one of her own that I don’t have then I’ll add it in there as we go. If she doesn’t I will ask her what she’s interested in and we’ll try to steer our learning that way. I think for now it’s a good mix that will allow us more communication together about her education, give her more motivation, and allow me the satisfaction of knowing we are hitting markers and I’m able to report everything that I need to. Since I do still really like schedules and with her diagnosis schedules work well for keeping her anxiety down we will still have a daily schedule. I will post it once I figure out which one works best. We are also adding personal hygiene and life skills in her learning.

Unschoolers with feedback or success stories are welcome to comment 🙂

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Posted in Education, Family, Opinion, parenting, pop culture, Social Change, teaching, Uncategorized

Kindergarten is hard

“Kindergarten is the new first grade”- everyone in education ever

Kids are growing up faster these days.

When I was in kindergarten it was a half day. We had quiet time on our mats. I remember eating graham crackers with peanut butter. Letters were learned, numbers were counted, and we went home with paint on our hands.

I don’t remember tests. I don’t remember stress. I don’t really know if I had a “desk” per say.

“Five- and 6-year-old kids now spend hours in their seats doing academic work, often with little or  no recess or physical education, or  arts, music and science.  These kids are tested ad nauseam and expected to be able to do things by the time they leave kindergarten that some, perhaps even many, are not developmentally prepared to do” (source).

Since the early 2000’s kindergarten classes have been under attack to be more and more academically focused. More reading! More math! More STEM education! We need those computer engineers knowing what they’re doing early on! (Yes I realize the photo is not a kindergartner just stay with me here)

baby-boy-child-159533

But it’s not just quantitative data from a group of disgruntled moms, dads, or teachers. It’s actually a legit change in curriculum that has been studied since the 1990’s.  “The researchers compared kindergarten and first-grade classrooms between 1998 and 2010 and found that kindergarten classes had become increasingly like first grade” (source) Its not just the lengthening of the days and the increasing intensity of the subjects, its the lack of thought about their interest stimulation and the amount of testing (TESTING!) that kindergarten involves now.

“In 2010, 73 percent of kindergartners took some kind of standardized test. One-third took tests at least once a month. In 1998, they didn’t even ask kindergarten teachers that question. But the first-grade teachers in 1998 reported giving far fewer tests than the kindergarten teachers did in 2010” (source).

This is one reason I think the whole “play equals learning” movement has been thriving so much. Montessori schools, Tinkergartens, the interest in Swedish education systems, have all risen here in the U.S. because we don’t want our kids turning into intelligent zombies. This is also why a lot of people believe the diagnosis of ADHD, ADD, and other disorders has dramatically increased. I can’t say yes or no to that one, but I do feel that this sort of learning at such a young is detrimental to what is natural for a child.

One parent said “I’m worried that my son is going to hit a point where he doesn’t like learning in school because he thinks learning is humiliation and frustration, and discouragement and anger rather than curiosity and encouragement, and fun and discovery. I think that a lot of the policymakers don’t care. They think there are kids that are disposable” (source).

Children are curious by nature. Every child wants to learn when they are young. It’s exciting, and fun if you let it be.

“We saw notable drops in teachers saying they covered science topics like dinosaurs and outer space, which kids this age find really engaging,” says Bassok, the study’s lead author” (source). 

“The percentage of teachers who reported offering music every day in kindergarten dropped by half, from 34 percent to 16 percent. Daily art dropped from 27 to 11 percent” (source).

But why is this movement towards more strict lessons and academics for such young students still gaining momentum when so many people seem to be against it?

“Much of this is tied to the belief that academic performance should be the sole measure of school and teacher effectiveness” (source). 

That. Right there. “Effectiveness”. Qualitative data. Competitions. Seeing our students succeed “better” than other countries. Better then other states. Better than the county next to us. Better. Because more academics means higher test scores, which means your class is “better”. It’s kind of a sad premise. What about people skills? What about emotional learning? What about art skills? Music ability? Physical ability? What if your child is an amazing unicycle rider, is there nothing good to say about that? I couldn’t do it. I think it’s awesome.

What about soft skills? Things that you can’t teach an adult. Things that you learn as a child. Empathy, understanding, and all that hippy dippy stuff that makes you a decent member of society. You learn those things in kindergarten.

What about the argument that this rise in a more strict curriculum of math and language arts is only due to the fact that children are entering kindergarten more school ready? That this emphasis on early education is creating children who are already able to read and write at the age of five? I say fine. That’s great if kids are grasping these concepts early because they want to. I love early literacy initiatives when they are in a fun and open environment. But the structure and the testing doesn’t need to change in order to stimulate a child’s intellect. Centers, dramatic play, art, music; all these things still play crucial roles in their development and do not hinder them reading and writing.

So I’m just going to leave this here to wrap all this up. I love this little poem so much it was even read at my wedding. Maybe one day we can get back to it but for now, this has been a huge deciding factor for me to homeschool. I know not everyone can and I’m not trying to sway you to, but just keep in mind your kids are going through more after a day of kindergarten then we ever had to.

All I Really Need To Know
I Learned In Kindergarten

by Robert Fulghum

All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.
ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to live and what to do
and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not
at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the
sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:
Share everything.

Play fair.

Don’t hit people.

Put things back where you found them.

Clean up your own mess.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

Wash your hands before you eat.

Flush.

Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Live a balanced life – learn some and think some
and draw and paint and sing and dance and play
and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon.

When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic,
hold hands, and stick together.

Be aware of wonder.
Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup:
The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody
really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even
the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die.
So do we.

And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books
and the first word you learned – the biggest
word of all – LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere.
The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation.
Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any of those items and extrapolate it into
sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your
family life or your work or your government or
your world and it holds true and clear and firm.
Think what a better world it would be if
all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about
three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with
our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments
had a basic policy to always put thing back where
they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you
are – when you go out into the world, it is best
to hold hands and stick together.

Posted in Education, Library, literature, Opinion, Poetry, reading, teaching, Uncategorized

Thunderstorm poetry, the best of

I’ve said it before, I’m not a huge poetry fan, but there are some that really stick to me and I just keep rereading over and over. I did a post about “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowing Evening” awhile back and I think nature poems can just move you in a way that a story can’t. I saw this post and wanted to share it.

 

The best poems about storms Weather is a perennial theme of poetry, and not just nice weather: more violent and extreme weather, such as storms, thunder, and lightning, has produced some classic poems, as this list of the best storm poems aims to highlight. Sir Thomas Wyatt, ‘Innocentia Veritas Viat Fides Circumdederunt me inimici mei’. […]

via 10 of the Best Poems about Thunderstorms — Interesting Literature

Posted in Library, literature, Mental Health, Poetry, Uncategorized

Miles to go before I sleep…

The days are shorter, the nights are longer, and the cold seems to bring out the worst in some people. Use this time to reflect on yourself and your family to see how everyone is really feeling. In the midst of January, and “January Blues” season, I wanted to share some insight on one of my favorite poems.
Image result for january blues
As you may have seen with the circulating Facebook post about people having “a warm bed and tea ready”, this is the time of year when those who are really suffering from depression tend to have the most struggles.
Why is the winter so hard?
There are a lot of reasons it’s believed that “January Blues” seems to happen. It’s not just January mind you, it’s winter in general. There’s a mix of cold weather, staying indoors more, less sun, calmness from the holiday commotion that some people do not do well with, and of course the need to cleanse yourself from the plethora of calories from the holidays.
I always think of a famous poem by Robert Frost this time of year.
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
Whose woods these are I think I know.Image result for snowy woods
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Some critique the poem as a suicide note. The claim is that the narrator is trying to persuade himself to keep on living even though it would much easier to stay in the depressed state that he is in. Others look at it as more uplifting. Even though the narrator is contemplating the darkness of the woods he is choosing to continue on. I prefer that latter.
Still others would say it’s a completely over-analyzed poem and it’s just about a guy riding his horse and enjoying nature. I could get on board with that too, I suppose.
Robert Frost wrote this poem prior to winning four Pulitzer Prizes. The man obviously knew what he was doing with words. The sounds and rhythm of his poetry are top notch, even if you aren’t a fan of the possible messages and imagery.
Why is this important right now? Why should I care about a poem written almost 100 years ago?
Well, I think all literature is important and I think it can be used as a great bonding and teaching resource. If you have an older teen or tween who you may suspect is suffering from depression, have them read this poem. Talk about it. I’m sure they are going to be forced to read it sometime in school, but have them do it on their own time. Tell them how you feel about it.
If nothing else maybe this poem could inspire you and your family to log off for awhile. It’s so easy, especially with the cold winds blowing, to stay inside, plugged in, and tuned out. The woods can be a great place for reflection and discovering what you are really feeling. Not to get all spiritual about it or anything, but the woods are one of the best places to just…be.
Image result for snowy woods
Posted in Family, health, parenting, toddlers, Uncategorized

Toys Do Not Equal Happiness

I am a reformed hoarder. As a librarian I work in an industry of hoarders. My whole system of work is about recruiting items and storing history and information for the general public. But over the years, and many many many weedings later, I have really understood the power of quality over quantity.

So I applied this to my home life and have read a lot of great resources on the topic of minimalist living. More importantly, being a minimalist with children.

Part of being a minimalist is helping your children realize the importance of living without material items making you happy. This is easier said than done. Luckily we don’t have cable so my children do not see many commercials but when we go other places, advertisements are all over the television. And they look so cool! And fun! And every new toy I see I want to get for them because that will make them happy…and then I snap back into the real world and remember we have small house, a small budget, and no need for it.

 

The thing about it is you want to inspire your children to play more. That may sound a little counterproductive if you take their toys away but it really isn’t. You want to keep things that inspire them, make them use their imaginations, and for God sake go outside once in awhile. Me personally, when I weeded through my daughter’s room I kept her puzzles, books, play ponies, two baby dolls and clothes, and dress up items. Most of the other toys were donated. That is not to say she doesn’t have plenty of things to play with, even if they aren’t toys.

It can get tempting and I have read blogs where parents NEVER let their kids get toys or items. I think that is a wee bit extreme I am just very selective now of what comes into the house. So, here are some ideas for gifts and items for toddlers and kids that aren’t just toys.

 

Blankets and Sleeping Bags- My daughter could play with blankets for hours, and some days when we’re stuck inside she does. She plays camping, makes sheet forts, makes dresses, has play picnics, etc etc. Great thing about blankets is I have one space for them, so when she gets too many, I ask her which one she wants to get rid of.

Kitchen Tools- Whenever I update something in the kitchen I ask my daughter if she wants the old one for her play kitchen. So she has real measuring cups, mixing spoons, and a spatula to play with. This eliminates the need for so many toy items that are smaller and usually end up all over the living room.

Memberships- The intangible gifts probably won’t be appreciated right away by the little ones. However, when summer hits and they want to go to the pool at your YMCA or to your local Zoo (if they have a fee) then remind them about their gift they got from you (or grandparent or aunt Millie, whoever).

Gift Cards- another intangible. I think adding pictures of what the gift card is for will help them get excited. Make a handmade card with ice creams on it and a gift card for an ice cream date, or a movie date.

Lessons- Maybe a toddler won’t appreciate piano lessons, but an older child might. Maybe there’s a unique instrument that you have seen out or at the library or in a movie. Maybe your child likes to draw and wants to get better. Maybe they want to be a better swimmer.

Dress Up Clothes- Yes, these can start to get out of hand just like regular clothes or toys if you’re not careful. But the whole point of limiting toys and clutter is to promote your child’s imagination and creativity. I think that is exactly what dress up clothes can do! Just keep it to a few items. If they get something new, they have to get rid of something old.

Art Supplies- these go fast at my house, I don’t know about anywhere else. Markers run out, crayons get snapped in two, paper gets used, coloring books fill up within a few days. So art supplies are always a great way to go.

Bubbles- same as art supplies.

 

Some other articles I found helpful: 

 

Great article about living as a minimalist with kids and why to start it in the first place.

 

This mother has two posts about taking her children’s toys away and I love both of them.

 

Posted in Education, Family, Library, parenting

Learning at home: A week’s worth

I am currently getting information together for a program I want to do next year to help local parents, teachers, grandparents, whomever, help to promote literacy at home. Below is one week worth of ideas to help you:

Things to do at home throughout the month to help improve literacy:

Monday- Make a grocery list for the week using pictures from magazines. Have your child help pick out foods they want. Glue to a piece of paper or in a list order.

Tuesday-Focus on whatever season it is. If its spring, read a book about spring, sing a song about spring, talk about the weather. Go outside and look at the birds and flowers that are only out in the spring. Summer time, read about the beach and the sun. Autumn, read about the leaves and the trees. Winter, read about the cold and the snow. Just make sure to talk today.

Wednesday- Water play! Winter time- play with the snow. Use spoons, cups, and measuring supplies to scoop different amounts of snow into a large bowl. Summer- play with a bowl water and a sponge. Can you transfer all the water in one bowl into an empty bowl?


Thursday-Nursery Rhyme Time: Learn Five Little Ducks


Friday- Walk around the house (maybe while doing laundry or cleaning kitchen). Find at least ten blue items. Reward with a yummy blue snack- Jello, freeze pop, gummies, blueberries and Cool Whip, ect.

Saturday- Go to the library! Check out any programs going on throughout the month.

Sunday- Learn what your name starts with. Give a cutout or draw an outline of the letter. Let them color it in, decorate it with stickers, whatever they want.

Just one week of things to do with your child to help promote literacy. Just keep in mind, early literacy is not forcing your child to learn to read and write at an early age. It’s engaging them in a way that learning is fun, and interesting, so they will want to keep learning as they get older. That’s it in a nutshell!

Posted in Easter, Education, Family, Holidays, parenting

Educational Easter

The title may already sound a little boring, and I’m not one of those people who thinks kids should be learning all day, everyday; however, Easter is prime time for learning activities.

If you are Christian it is even more of a perfect time for educational activities. The resurrection is not an easy concept to grasp so the earlier kids learn the story of Jesus the better they will understand it when they are older. There are a lot of resources available now to help you tell and explain this story. One idea, give out coloring pages and explain what is happening in those pages while your child colors.

Ascension of Jesus coloring page

The Ascension of Jesus

Another craft idea that I thought was really cool was this silhouette painting of the Crucifixion. This can be for children, toddler through teen I think. If you click and follow the link it takes you to the site where you can print off the silhouette. Then your child paints with water color around it. They come out really beautiful looking. I am definitely going to do this next year.

printable water color crucifix

If you are not Christian or you just want some non religious educational activities for Easter, there are plenty.

For younger students anything involving plastic Easter eggs and matching can turn into a fun game. You can match rhyming words. Have words that rhyme on top and bottom and mix them all up. Have your child put the rhyming words together. Do not put the matches all in the same colors. That is too easy! You can do this with numbers as well. You can write a number on the bottom piece, for example 9. Then on the top piece write 6+3. Do this for all the numbers 1-15 and have your child match the right answers.

Another fun matching one for younger kids (toddler-pre K) is making emotions. Draw different mouths (sad, teeth grin, growl, tongue out, yelling, ect) on the bottom pieces and different eyes (wide eyes, squinted eyes, winking eye, ect) on the tops. Have you child piece them together to make faces and explain what they think that face is feelings and why.

Tool for teaching emotions in kids of all ages.   By Laughing Kids Learn

Another matching activity that doesn’t involve Easter eggs (and you can do this for any holiday or image really) is to use Popsicle sticks. Chose a simple image, lay out the Popsicle sticks flat and paint the image on them. Then mix them all up and have your child put them back in order.

Teens are a little harder this time of year. Of course they still want candy, who doesn’t. But as far as activities go there isn’t much geared towards older kids. Having them help with the activities for the younger kids is always a good way for them to stay involved. If you want to do something for your teen a scavenger hunt is the more complex Easter egg hunt. Still hide some eggs, fill them with what you want, and hide in really tough places. Now leave a list of clues. Here’s one example:

Easter Egg Scavenger Hunt Clues | Storypiece.net

To this you could say, yes that’s cool but it’s not really educational. And to that I would say, you’re probably right. Although riddles and puzzles do definitely get the brain going!

If you want something a little more science-y then you could do the planets! Now that my favorite is gone, you would only need eight eggs for the eight planets.

Instead of dip dying the eggs try the shaving cream method to get the swirled gaseous look that most the planets have.

Shaving Cream Marbled Easter Eggs #Easter Eggs #Easter #Shaving Cream

Have your middle school or high school student color the eggs according to which planet they are supposed to be (ie Mecury could be red and orange swirled, Venus green and yellow, Earth blue and green, ect). Once they are colored mix the eggs up for them and have them put them in order.

Another cool science experiment you can incorporate into the Easter season thanks to the wonderful amount of things you can do with eggs, is to show air pressure! I know that sounds less than exciting but watch this short video involving a glass jar, a hard boiled egg, and some matches.

Investigating air pressure – more eggs!

If you can think more ideas feel free to leave comments below!