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.

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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)

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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, Family, history, Library, literature, Opinion, reading, Uncategorized

Why read nonfiction at every age

You either love it or you hate it. There’s not many people who are in between (I’m sure you exist just bare with me). I’ve heard the argument many times “I don’t read nonfiction because it’s boring”, “It’s too hard to read”, “I just like stories that are made up”. All are valid points for certain titles and authors. However, there’s a whole world of nonfiction that is far from boring, hard, and read so much like fiction you’ll be amazed that it’s not made up.

Reading nonfiction is beneficial to you as an adult, and even more so to children. Since common core was initiated, nonfiction became a higher percentage of what children had to read per grade which is a good thing and a bad thing. I hate the idea of children and teens growing a resentment or dislike for nonfiction because they are forced to read it (much like what happens with the classics) but I do like that they are at least being more exposed to it.

Why Read Nonfiction?

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Early literacy education focuses mostly on just inspiring the idea of reading

and the want to read. However, most of the books that children get exposed to in these younger years are fiction. There’s nothing wrong with that, the cartoons and illustrations are one of the main things that draw young children into books in the first place. There are nonfiction books though that are great for this age range. The series of books called the “tabbed board books” that feature real photos of different topics are wonderful for young readers. They see things they can relate to, things they see everyday, and start to learn names for all of these things. Plus they are bright and colorful so they keep their attention.



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I read an article awhile back (I believe the stats were from 2013 or 2012) that said students only spend 5% of their free time reading nonfiction. While it’s not that hard to believe it’s still such a small percentage that I get worried. Obviously, there is a huge correlation between student’s who read on their free time receiving good grades, versus students who do not read on their free time receiving bad grades (not everyone, just the stats).

Nonfiction is great for hesitant readers in this age group. The nonfiction titles may not be as “age defined” as some of their fiction cousins. For example, there are some nonfiction books about the Titanic that a six year old could enjoy or a twelve year old could enjoy. Nonfiction is also great for boys. Yes, I’m being sexist here but again statistics show that after the third grade boys are much more likely to stop reading on their free time than girls are. I still don’t know why that it is I wish I did so I could fix it. However, some of my reluctant boy readers took really well to nonfiction. Sports, war, history, science, things like that are interesting when they are written about the right way. Do some exploring with your student until you find something they like to read about.

                   

12-18

Teens should read nonfiction for the same reason that middle school and elementary school students should: it will help their grades. Period. They will be smarter. You can’t read a nonfiction book (a well written one anyway) and not be a little bit smarter afterwards (unless it’s a political book but we won’t go there).

I feel like when I was in high school there wasn’t a lot of “YA Nonfiction”. Young Adult wasn’t even really a “genre” the way it is now. There was a handful of titles considered “teen” but it wasn’t the powerhouse it is now. YA Nonfiction has come light-years and is sometimes more entertaining than adult nonfiction. Again, it’s just finding what your student is interested and will take to the most.

                                     

18+

You’re not a student (well you may be a college student I don’t know, for argument’s sake we’re going to say you’re not). You’re not a student, you have no papers to write, no reports to be had. Why in the world would you waste your precious free time reading nonfiction? Reading is supposed to be fun, relaxing, enjoyable. Nonfiction is all of those things if you find the right authors. There’s more to nonfiction than studies and statistics being spit at you in the text of page after page of information.

If you are hesitant, or you have tried several nonfiction books but just cannot seem to get into them, try memoirs or true crime. Sometimes true crime can get a little sciencey, but a lot of true crime I’ve read reads more like a soap opera. I adore memoirs if they are well written.

                         

My favorite is history, usually American history but some eras in European history are also pretty fascinating. Some people just skipped this whole section as soon as they saw history. I get it, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. However, there are some amazing authors in this category to try.

Health and wellness is a new topic I’ve been reading. It’s one of the most popular topics at my library but I’ve never really been interested enough to read a whole book on a wellness topic. Now, I can say I have read a few that I didn’t get through because I thought it was boring, and I’ve read a few within a night or two because they were very interesting. Just have to find your niche.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Science and medical nonfictional can definitely fall into one of those harder to read categories. Certain authors make it more “story like”. Mary Roach is a really good one, and Bill Bryson.

                              

Folklore and fairy tales are categorized as nonfiction. Oddly enough this is one of the most frequent questions I get asked by students and adults; “why?”
Well technically, classic literature and poetry should be in nonfiction as well. All of these forms of writing give a scholar, or whoever is reading the work, a glimpse of the culture that the work came from. So for example, by reading Native American folklore, historians can learn what different values tribes held that may not be documented anywhere else.

 

Feel free to post any other suggestions!

 


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!

Posted in Education

Explore the Senses

It’s been said that kids are sponges and the more I watch my daughter grow up the more I realize that statement to be true. I will say I think some of the initiatives for teaching for one to three-year-olds are a little…drastic. I don’t think my one-year-old needs to know French. However, I do think introducing fun activities that teach them useful terms and skills which will help them once they get into school is definitely important. Some easy learning subject matter: the five senses.

Reiterate words as much as possible: ears, hear, head, hair, eyes, see, eye color, blink, nose, smell, mouth, tongue, taste, hands, fingers, touch, ect.

wq_senses

For hearing you can do easy activities that show your child different sounds (also you may want to take an Excedrin prior). Make instruments out of old formula cans and metal bells or pots and a plastic spoon. Let them experiment with different sounds. If you have some old plastic Easter eggs fill them with different items and let your child shake away and hear the different sounds. Of course, music party dance time counts too I think. Give your child some scarves or something like this:

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For sight, peek-a-boo is actually teaching them the basics of sight. You can also show them pictures of other people either in books or magazines and ask them to point out the person’s eyes. Ask them what color the eyes are. Play a version of I Spy. Say things like bring me your cup, your shoes, your blanket. Flashlight shadow puppets introduces the idea of light and dark. The cup game is great too! Just get three cups and something small that fits under them. Flip the cups over with the item under one of the cups. Then move them around and let your child try to pick with cup has the item under it.

For taste, lunchtime can always be a learning experience. Give them something salty like a cracker and explain “salty” then give them something sweet like fruit and say “sweet”. If they are a little older you can take a green apple and a red apple. Peel the skin and cut them up but remember which is which. Then give your child a piece and ask “do you think that’s the red apple or the green apple?” They will learn that the sweeter tasting is red and the more tart is green showing the same food can have different tastes.

For touch, a great tool to use are water beads. You have to watch closely on this one (and all of them) to make sure your child doesn’t use the beads as a snack. Most are nontoxic but still. You can put them in a plastic tub that has a little bit of water in it and watch the beads expand. Let your child feel the textures. Cooked noodles are also a favorite to play with. As you can probably tell touch may require the most clean up.

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For all the senses a great, mess-free, way to let your child explore is using sensory bottles. Any sort of clear sealable bottle will work. Make sure your child can’t get the bottle open.  My daughter can open about anything so I had to break out the duct tape. Fill the bottles with little colorful beads, seeds, or thick glitter. Throw in a few larger objects like dice or larger beads. Then watch as they study the materials getting tossed around while they search for the larger items. You can also make some with liquids like oil and water. Use color in the oil so your child can really see the separation.

Posted in Education

Ms. Frizzle Help Us!

I just read this article published in the Washington Post and had to share it. As I will bring up quite a few times I’m sure, and as you may have already seen/heard in the news, women are left behind in STEM careers and college degrees. Well, this article makes the claim that bringing back “The Magic School Bus” might help our girls out.

Before STEM was even an acronym, Ms. Frizzle was rocking science garb and telling girls (and boys) to “take a closer look”. The show has been off the air since the late 90’s but, like a lot of other discontinued cartoons, Netflix has purchased 26 episodes which will bring it to a whole new group of viewers. They are creating a new version of the show with computer animation and also streaming the old version. The books are also still in print, and when I was working at the library I can honestly say they were checked out pretty regularly.

Maybe bringing Ms. Frizzle back will spark some new interest in children to pursue science. As I was reading I started thinking of other shows that used to be on which were science related; “Bill Nye the Science Guy”, which ended in 1998; “Science Court”, ended in 2000 which was one of my favorites (if you haven’t seen it view an episode here.) Maybe we need a revival of these kinds of shows. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind listening to the “Bubble Guppies” theme song a dozen times a day and they do talk about some science topics. But maybe we need to bring back some late 90’s styled TV shows for kids, which mainly focuses on science.

You can read the full article here.

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Image from: http://ideas.wikia.com/wiki/File:Miss_Frizzle_Drawns.png