"These are a few of my favorite things..."
How we put the AWESOME in our homeschool
After writing the last post on diving into "hyper-schooling" with a newly adopted crew, some conversations I had with friends caused me to believe that it may have given the wrong impression. I wanted to provide a quick answer to the "how's it going" question that I frequently get, which may be interpreted as "how are you all surviving?" We're not just surviving, we're doing awesome as we take an educational journey with some of our favorite things. Here's a quick overview of some of them.
Devotional is how we start each day. Over breakfast we read from the scriptures and pray, which usually works well because if mouths are full there is less interrupting. Then we spend a few minutes going over our weekly passage from The Living Christ, which we are "memorizing"--the quotes are because we're really not memorizing it with any seriousness, but the kids are becoming very familiar with it and can quote some of it. Helps for that on this website.
After the kids do their morning magnets (we track taking care of themselves, their rooms, and doing a small chore on a magnet chart in the kitchen) I usually gather them back together again by turning on the TV--we either do Cosmic Kids yoga or watch a couple of TED Eds (both on YouTube).
Next is Read-aloud time. Along with many shorter things, so far we've done Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the first Harry Potter book, and The Three Toymakers, by Ursula Moray Williams, a classic tale in the style of Hans Christian Anderson that my mother read to me when I was their age. Next we'll do The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, also a classic, and then some Greek mythology since we're studying ancient history. Paul also reads to them several evenings a week; he's just finished Summer of the Monkeys and is now reading Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Favorite classics in most every genre are listed here.
Can I just pause here to say that the fact that we can do read-alouds is huge. We were completely appalled when the kids first came to us that they had zero ability to sit and listen to a story. Read-alouds are WHAT WE DO as a family--it's huge in our family culture. We've made lots of progress in this department, and the girls (now 8 and 11) have both recently turned the corner from reading only for school assignments, to reading for pleasure (the Harry Potter series did that for them--thanks J.K. Rowling!). The youngest can now also sit and listen, though he does much better if his hands are busy with something like drawing or playing with clay (he has sensory-seeking needs and hyperactivity).
I try to also sprinkle other awesome read-alouds throughout the day; if someone is having a hard time with life for a minute, I always offer a story as consolation. Some of them are classics illuminating human nature like Frog and Toad Are Friends, but others are academics disguised in a cute package. The story above, Miss Lina's Ballerinas by Grace Maccarone, has eight ballerinas who always dance together in four twos or two fours, but then another joins their group and they are crashing into each other until they realize that nine works better as three threes. They will take this mini-lesson on number sense as they go on to their next activity, and they are mulling it over in their mind almost subconsciously while they recognize patterns and build logic skills. That's the pattern top educational experts say we should be following: kids need exercise and play, then short lessons, then more activity, and so forth, as self-directed as possible.
I may have a preference for math picture books, but there are so many great science and history picture books too these days. When I was small I mainly encountered these subjects in a Childcraft encyclopedia set, and that is fine for determined children, but now the kids non-fiction section of the library is brimming over with gorgeous, inviting, non-intimidating books that let children meet a new subject in a friendly way. There are even grammar books (top photo, by Lynn Truss) which entice kids to pick them up and learn about apostrophes to figure out why the pictures are funny. Love it!
But I studiously avoid reading vacuous books to my kids. They can check them out of the library, and read them on their own, but when I read a book to them it's not going to be anything about Ninjago or Pokémon. Those books can remain out of their reach for the moment, and may entice them to focus more on improving their reading skills, which the younger ones do through ABeka Letters and Sounds, Bob Books, and many other things.
Miquon Math Lab and Cuisenaire rods are some of our favorite things for math learning. Even if a child is inspired by math picture books, intriguing videos (like Vi Hart, Ted Ed, and Numberphile), etc. that math is awesome, he still needs to be given the opportunity to practice math and to create math. Miquon Math does a great job, putting the child in charge of sleuthing out the patterns in the numbers and creating his own math challenges. Playing math games like those in my Magical Math book gives lots more practice and exposure to different number and logic concepts.
In addition to her math program, our eleven-year-old has been doing a free online class from Stanford University, How To Learn Math, by Dr. Jo Boaler. This debunks the ideas, strongly engrained in her by six years of PS, that she needs to memorize "the steps" (algorithm) to solving problems, and that if she makes a mistake it's bad. It presents math as interactive and connected to real life. Good stuff!
Field trips and co-ops add the spice to our week--they are some of my favorite things. We do earth science and biology on Wednesdays at our house with four other families, and then on Fridays we go two other homes where we study Shakespeare, food science, and earth science. The kids love getting together with friends at these and other weekly activities. I do too!
This is, of course, not a comprehensive list of "my favorite things," (this list is more comprehensive) but just a window into how we're introducing our kids to the world of "self-learning because it's awesome." Some families do a fantastic job of this. Others struggle, with both the kids and parents not really enjoying what they're studying--which makes it really tough to stay on the homeschool path. My motto is "If you hate it, chuck it and find something else." Because unlike when I began homeschooling 25 years ago, the learning tools available are now literally endless. We have the ability--the responsibility--to choose between good, better, and awesome.
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