Spider Walk

It's hard to see, but there is a long piece of silk. It comes down from the tree, wraps around the bush, and continues out into my neighbor's yard.

It’s hard to see, but there is a long piece of silk. It comes down from the tree, wraps around the bush, and continues out into my neighbor’s yard.

Before we ever began, when I pictured homeschooling in my mind, I imagined nature walks would be a regular occurrence for my little student body. I reasoned that such walks would naturally foster my littles’ ability to observe, classify, and hypothesize, as well as allow opportunity to dispense of some of their ample energy along the way.  

Unfortunately, between living in suburbia and our neighborhood being new construction, there is little nature to walk through. Certainly, we can venture off to one of the many nearby parks, but it rarely happens. Getting in the car and going to the park takes much more planning and preparation than a spontaneous walk. Such walks also tend to be much less about what we can discover and much more about, “How much longer until we can go to the playground?”

 Lucky for me (and my little students), nature came to us last week!

One of the other homeschooling mamas I know sent out an email early one morning. She and her daughter had noticed some interesting “strings” all over their neighborhood while they were out walking. She did a little research and discovered they were spider webs. As quickly as I could get everyone dressed, we were out the door for some of our own observing.

Sure enough, there were “strings” everywhere. On cars. On houses. On street lights. In the grass. On trees. Our whole neighborhood looked like it chose a spider theme in anticipation of halloween.  

We walked the entire neighborhood and observed until their little hearts were content. 

When we got home, we had a nice discussion about what we saw, what we thought it meant, and then covered some actual facts about how spiders travel.  (We mainly used this site for the facts.) Finally, we colored some spider web coloring sheets I found online.

Jack "measuring" some silk with his feet. This strand stretched across two lawns.

Jack “measuring” some silk with his feet. This strand stretched across two lawns.

It was such a great morning! The lesson was so natural; it flowed so organically from their own curiosities. It was awesome! When I said something about the spider lesson in retrospect, Andy and Jack both responded with amazement that the spider activity was “school.” That’s exactly what I always wanted.

While I certainly find some value in structured book work, I believe that to foster a real love of learning, the organic flow we created last week has to be a regular occurrence. Simply reading the next page in the science book won’t cut it. Sure, they’re bound to stumble across something that genuinely interests them as they read any book, but, to me, it makes so much more sense to allow their genuine interest to be the starting point, rather than a happy coincidence along the way.   

I’m so grateful for our little spider walk last week, and hope to offer many more opportunities to facilitate such an organic learning process for my little learners. 

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Getting Hands-On

One of our (both mine and the kids’) main goals for this school year was to get more “hands-on.” Several years ago, when I first began envisioning our homeschool, it was incredibly hands on. Unfortunately, reality hasn’t worked out that way. In fact, this is one of the elements that weighed heavily on my decision to stop working outside the home. It seemed absurd that I was making the effort to homeschool, but my efforts were limited by what I was able to cram into a given day. My employment was governing my home life, and I simply couldn’t make peace with that. But I digress…

Where was I? Oh, yes, hands-on.

Step one was getting a few curriculum pieces that would make this transition easier. Since we were accustomed to primarily bookwork, I figured I needed a little inspiration to turn the tide. Catholic Heritage Curricula is where we found many of the books we were most excited about. I think they do a great job of bringing lessons to life through hands-on activities. As such, I get to integrate more of the hands-on learning I was longing for, but I don’t have to worry about getting too creative, since the lessons come with suggested activities and supply lists. We just did the cutest little “experiment” in Jack’s science class. He’s learning about seeds (Every seed is a baby plant!) so we soaked some beans and split them open. Lo and behold – there were little plant sprouts on the inside! So much fun!

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Step two, as suggested by Jack, was to add an art class. I am not artsy. I am not crafty. The thought of this made me cringe. Yet, he was insistent that he needed to take art. I looked through endless art books, hoping to find something I could work with. A lot of art books that I saw were geared more toward art appreciation – looking at and studying great works. While this certainly has merit, I knew what he meant. He wanted arts and crafts. He wanted to cut and glue and play with paint and glitter. Finally, I went back to one of the first books I looked at (and initially disregarded due to the certainty of very large messes) and bit the bullet. We became the proud owners of Art 1 for Young Catholics. This book offers several projects each month based on the liturgical year, and it is truly a gem! Even Andy, who initially declared that he would NOT be participating in art under any circumstances, loves the projects and activities. Today’s project was in honor of Mary’s assumption into Heaven and it came out oh-so-cute.

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I never have any trouble getting my kids to tune in when we’re doing catechetical lessons. Their sweet little hearts are truly eager to learn more and more about their faith. But when the kiddos discover that today’s lesson came with more than just stories and discussion, they were elated! We all had so much fun that I don’t even mind that my kitchen floor is covered in glitter.

To help make sense of our art project: Today is the feast of The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. If you don’t know what that means, but would like to, visit here to learn about the feast in 12 little Q & As

assumption-of-mary

New Year. New Plan.

Andy with his aunts at his graduation party.

I am so proud to report that both of my little men finished their studies for what was supposed to be the 2011-2012 school year at the beginning of March. They absolutely love learning and they both soared right through their studies in just six months. (We didn’t begin school for the year until September.) While I don’t foresee this being a problem forever, (in middle and high school they can just take extra electives they are interested in, should they finish their studies early) I wasn’t sure how to handle the situation for pre-k and kindergarten. There’s not really all that much supplemental work that one can add, at least not one as creatively-challenged as me. So, we decided to have a big kindergarten graduation party for Andy and take the month of March off, in part to allow time to order new curriculum and in part because my schedule in March was so jammed packed that I could hardly breathe, let alone educate my sweet children. With that being the plan, we were slated to begin classes Monday, April 2.

All of the books arrived in plenty of time and the boys were thrilled to get working. They loved their books even more in person than they did one the internet. (I let the boys give input and suggestions regarding which books we use.) We cleaned out the school closet and got it all organized with our new materials. Everything was ready for Monday.

While it occurred to me as I was looking over suggested lesson plans, it became glaringly obvious Monday morning, that first grade is going to be much harder than kindergarten. Every day Andy is supposed to cover English, Math, Phonics, Reading, Religion, Spelling, and either History or Science (They alternate weeks, as they’re not considered core subjects for first grade.) We also got a Latin program, but I think we’re going to have to get into the swing of the year before we tackle that task. Each class is supposed to last less half an hour. (For those of you doing the math, yes that’s correct. Only 3.5 hours of actual work are required for first grade. What our sweet traditionally school children are doing for the remaining 4.5 hours is not related to actual learning, but rather classroom management, moving between locations, lunch time, busy work, etc. While I’m obviously biased, I’m very happy that I don’t have to miss out on 4.5 hours of my kids’ lives every day for that nonsense. But I digress…)

Andy "encouraging" Jack as they worked on various lessons last winter.

Anyway, Monday was a disaster. Well, not a disaster, but it certainly wasn’t enjoyable. We got the work done, and in less than 3 hours, but it was chaotic and bumpy and mostly unenjoyable. Granted, it was the first day. There are always bumps the first day. But our big bump was that I was trying too hard to follow the directions in the suggested lesson plans. (I learned this lesson last year, but apparently I needed a refresher.) While the suggested lesson plans are a great resource, they don’t know my kids or our family, and one of the reasons we homeschool is to tailor their education to their needs, interests, and learning-styles.

Since I’m obviously a slow learner when it comes to lesson-planning, we decided to take one more week off. It’s Holy Week. We should be out of school anyway. At least that’s what I told myself. Truthfully, Holy Week didn’t have a lot to do with it, as I only planned to take Good Friday off completely. The remainder of our Holy Week activities weren’t going to be affected by school, so I saw no reason to cancel. But, as an act of mercy to my relentless morning sickness, and as an opportunity to get my ducks in a neater row, we’re taking Holy Week off.

At first I wasn’t sure what to do to resolve the probelm, but it finally dawned on me. (Thank you, Lord, for always lighting my path.) Pushing through seven (less than) 30 minute classes every day is just stupid. Even for Andy’s (and my) super short attention span, it was just too much. It was too quick, too choppy, and didn’t flow well at all. So (drum roll please…) we’re going to give block scheduling a try. When I was in 9th and 10th grade I went to a school that did block scheduling. It works a lot like college classes. The students take 8 classes over the course of the year, but only 4 at a time. They complete 4 classes first semester and the second set of 4 after Christmas. I think that setup is going to work much better for us. But I’m torn, because I think, for younger children especially, reading, math, and religion need to be taught year round. So, I guess that leaves me with a combination of block scheduling and traditional scheduling. We will work on some classes all year long, while others we will focus on intensely in order to complete them quickly before moving on to something new. I’m really excited about this prospect, and certainly looking forward to Monday to see how the school day flows!

Eclectic Unschooler?

2013-08-20 11.14.22I just took the “Which Homeschooling Approach is Right for You?” quiz on Parentables.com, which is a TLC site that is more entertaining than respectable. Every now and then I glean something useful, but most the time I visit, I’m just procrastinating. This quiz, however, has left me unnerved. Mostly because it’s on to something and the control freak in me just can’t handle it.

I answered the multiple choice questions posed in terms of my ideal home school. I answered them based on the reasons I chose to home school. I did not necessarily answer them in light of what we are actually doing. After all, that seems to be the whole point of the quiz.

So, according to the scientific genius of the aforementioned quiz, I appear to be an “eclectic unschooler” at heart. I’m fine with eclectic. That’s a word I would use to describe many areas of my life. Unschooler on the other hand… Well it’s like I said, the control freak in me just can’t handle that.

It’s funny because in my mind’s eye there is a lot of unschooling. I like the idea of following the kids lead and learning what interests them. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in this approach, as it must foster a genuine love of learning. HOWEVER, unschooled children do not test a well as their public schooled counter parts. I certainly don’t want to be playing a mad game of catch up in 2023 trying to teach Andy math skills or anything else he’s lacking just prior to taking the SAT.

So I started this post about a month ago. I guess I never got around to finishing it. I like it though, so I’m going to round it out and go ahead and push “publish.” After reflecting on the quiz, talking with Josh and gleaning some wisdom from homeschooling veterans, I’ve come to peace with my title of eclectic unschooler…for now. We will all enjoy homeschooling much more if we’re doing what comes naturally instead of forcing something that doesn’t. That being said, we’re going to take somewhat of an eclectic unschooling approach for the time being, that is until about 5th grade.

Math and phonics are non-negotiables. They will be the structured albeit eclectic exceptions to this rule. Those subjects will have clear learning objectives keeping the boys at or above the standards expected of their traditionally schooled peers. Everything else is up to the kiddos. They can lead the way, choosing what they want to learn in terms of science, history, geography, etc, etc, etc. For me, this seems to be the best plan to match my personal objective of having my kiddos at home with me and the personal standards I hold in terms of what I want them to accomplish. It’s not unschooling per se, but it will capture the parts of unschooling I like, while avoiding the parts I don’t.

I guess in reality I’m just an eclectic homeschooler. Maybe if there were a few more questions on that little quiz they could have put me in a more concise nutshell. Either way, I’m happy with what we’re doing and I’ve learned a lot about myself, our school, and my teaching style since taking this quiz. This will save us all lots of frustration from attempting to master hours of boring workbook pages.