- As you already know if you have been reading at all, my mother passed away on July 31 so that has colored our days a lot recently (especially as conflict arose with certain family members due to some emotional issues.) The amazing thing is watching how the kids have dealt with all of this. We were blessed to find that they were not at all about the stuff, are mourning naturally, and are, in general dealing with things in a wonderfully healthy manner.
- We have been spending lots of time with family and friends and now that we have a minivan are doing a lot more going and doing. The kids are thrilled that this includes the library, some small trips to local national parks, and trips to IKEA. It is exciting to see how their interests have developed since we last were at the library and their excitement about going to the parks and IKEA.
- The kids have been on a fossil kick (lots of limestone around here), set up a stage in the basement and are planning a talent show of sorts for this Saturday at noon for whoever shows up, have been reading a ton, still programming on Scratch, playing the new Bookworm adventures and Boom Blox, hanging out at the pond with Pappap and Uncle James, and Essie is tweeting regularly.
- Because I picked up a pile of “educational” workbooks, games, and books at the Target $1 bin today they have been working on those and quizzing each other on Wonders of the World.
- I now have my mother’s sewing machine so the girls are clamouring to be allowed to sew again. I will have to teach them how to use this machine first but I suspect much sewing will occur in the next few months.
- Yesterday we discovered a cicada that had just left its nymph form. It was awesome and the kids immediately had to research so they could remember which type of cicada and what each stage was called.
- I updated to the new version of Ubuntu yesterday. It was the simplest upgrade I have ever done–took me less than an hour start to finish and most of that was copying my Home folder over from the backup drive. The new version is AWESOME. Just saying.
- I finished a random painting that has been floating around in my head for a while. This may be the beginning of a flower series since I am in the middle of one of a butterfly bush now.
- Issac finally lost the tooth that has spent the last month hanging by a strand. That same tooth got broken when Essie kicked him while swimming, bled everywhere and STILL didn’t come out. The next day Rach bumped him in the mouth with a swivel chair and out it came–no blood, nothing.
Every once in a while we have a day that can be described as nothing short of educational, which we usually call “edumactaional” to make it more fun. These are the sorts of days that I dreamed of when my children were still babies and I thought about homeschooling them as they were older; fun and spontaneous learning–reading books together , doing experiments, talking about science, reading, math in the course of the day, and lots of other very traditional types of learning going on without fuss and with joy.
The sad thing is that, back then, my young mommy brain was kind of confused about how those sort of days would happen. In fact , you may even say that I was brainwashed by all the teacher training I had (most of which had the goal of good classroom management rather than good learning–regardless of what we are told, but that is another story). I thought that the fun , spontaneous, pain free learning would come with lots and lots spontaneous (on my part) “school” things. For instance I would wake up in the morning and say, “Hey, lets work on this and this and this and this today!” which would then lead to lots of tears of frustration on all of our parts because the kids were so overwhelmed by the stuff I had planned.
And so I listened to the homeschooling gurus who told me that learning would only take place if it was planned. So I set about using all that teacher training and planned our school days. Which, may I add, led to even more tears of frustration, refusal to work, and anger. Where was this beautiful, peaceful, happily learning together family life I longed for? When I asked others the answer was the same–the peaceful, happy learning is a myth, all kids have days where they refuse to work, complain, HATE math, science, history, language arts.
That didn’t make sense to me either. As a kid I LOVED science and art–except in the classroom where they never answered the questions I wanted answered. The science books were too dumbed down about anything I was really interested in using only “suitable” language for each year, covering the same information every year but adding a little more vocabulary, a little more depth, but never what I was really interested in WHEN I was interested and the teacher was in too much of a hurry to “get through the book” to stop and answer questions for one child when most of the class didn’t care. The same went for art. Our art classes were designed to expose us to a wide array of media and art history but most of it was busy work. Glue this leg here, glue that arm there. Later it was “lets paint a happy little snow scene” or make a pointillism bird. There was never the opportunity to really explore the medium or one’s own interests, because most of the kids would just mess around and didn’t really care. It was all done in the name of classroom management and “getting through” the curriculum.
And then it occurred to me. Why was I using classroom management techniques designed to deal with large classes to train my kids at home. Growing up I spent all summer exploring my interest in science and art and later in reading. I spent all summer running around, playing, experimenting, discovering. One summer I spent everyday out on the pond on the paddle boat. My cousin and I sent our Barbies diving into the depths of the pond, created a lagoon for them, a beach, a resort. Another summer I spent everyday out in the woods with my green backpack full of lunch, homemade lemonade which I figured out how to make on my own),drawing materials, notebooks, reading books, field guides, and my Cabbage Patch Kid, Sharon Renae, as my fellow adventurer. Yet another summer I helped my dad build us a tree house, and another I helped dig a trench for a pipe and pump to draw water from the pond up to our house so we could water our garden with pond water. During those summers I read tons, learned all about rocks and plants, learned to draw, got tons of exercise, and learned to enjoy my own company. For my birthday (at the end of summer) my mom always planned a birthday party which I looked forward but barely remember (loved the idea of it but HATE parties as a rule) and my dad always planned a trip to whatever museum/zoo/state park I wanted (usually within an hour drive). I almost always chose the art museum but sometimes the children’s museum or the zoo or better yet the science center or a bike trip at the state park. And those trips I remember. It wasn’t an educational trip, it was fun, it was a gift.
We also, when I was young, often went camping, and usually did so someplace with educational value (most homeschoolers would call them field trips–we called them vacation.) We went to Washington DC, Niagara Falls, Gettysburg, Hershey, Lancaster. Only occasionally did such trips include an amusement park and if so then it was most likely Idlewild–a park not far from us which has a wonderful history and isn’t all show, in fact it has one of the oldest merry-go-rounds in the US as well as one of the oldest wooden roller coasters. These activities were mostly spontaneous (unless my mom and grandma took us-then it was well planned and included lots of bus tours, because my grandma likes bus tours). We, my brother and I, preferred the spontaneous day trips or the sudden camping, canoeing, biking trips. They were fun, satisfied our curiosity, and we didn’t have too much fuss about them.
And that is what I wanted our home to be like. I didn’t want our home to be divided between school and life. I wanted life to be educational, spontaneous, fun. I was tired of the fighting (especially with our high strung and very determined oldest). If homeschooling was God’s plan for us then it should, as part of our life, help us develop the fruits of the spirit , not hinder them. It should help our children learn contentment and a longing for growth, not promote whining and complaining. As God changed my heart about what school should look like our lifestyle became our learning style. No longer did we daily get out a pile of books (though occasionally we do–a pile of books to read or books ful of potential activities to do). No longer did we sit at the kitchen table with pencils at the ready or in the basement school room. The basement school room became a playroom where the kids “played” school and later where laundry got stored as it was ready to sort. The kitchen table became the place where we ate and where the kids did various crafts and activities they found in the piles of books strewn around the house. Shamus and I became facilitators and question answerers, mentors if you like. Our focus changed from making sure the kids “knew what they needed to know by a certain age” to dealing with heart issues, character development, and encouraging the kids in the areas they showed interest and making sure they had on hand what they needed to grow that interest.
And sure, some days the kids spend the day playing a video game (though may I mention that video games are an excellent place to learn economics–especially RPG or Sim style games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing) and some days they spend all day watching old movies. Other days they spend all day playing pirates, dolls, practicing a play they have created themselves, baking, building, reading, playing board games, whatever captures their interest on that particular day.
And on Monday Issac and I spent much of the day together, cleaning up, doing laundry, reading a very boring and not nearly informational to suit his tastes science text book and then jumping up and doing all sorts of experiments that weren’t in the book to answer the questions he asked like: What is erosion and how does it work? What is sedimentary rock and how does it form? How did our area form? (the book didn’t use those words, deeming them too hard to read for a 2nd grader–Issac asked the questions because he likes studying volcanoes and knows that volcanoes form islands and wanted to know how our area was formed and shaped and what sort of rock we have–the answer is glaciers and sedimentary rock so I him showed him using flour and water) . A section in the book on plants got us talking abut how plants soak up water and nutrients from the soil so we got out the celery and dye and made bright blue and green celery. In one day we went through an entire science text book only reading the bits he was interested in–he knew most of the stuff anyway and wasn’t interested in the other stuff–in fact he had already done most of the experiments they had on his own. Issac later explained all about both experiments to his sisters who enjoyed seeing them (though Rachel was upset that we had used much of the celery as she was planning on using it in some soup for dinner.:)) For dinner the kids and I made curry and Chapatti from an Indian cuisine cookbook we had picked up at the library sale. Later, after our Bible reading during which all three read aloud Psalms of David) we read a beautiful picture book about Washinton crossing the Delaware river. It was a rather dry factual account with gorgeous oil paintings for images so the kids enjoyed it and Rachel added to the information by enthusiastically sharing all she knows about George Washington (one of her favorite people about which to read .)
And when I looked back over the day I realized that this was the sort of day I had dreamed of, and the sort of day that homeschool gurus had insisted would never happen without careful planning, and yet, there had been no tears, the children really loved learning these things for their own sake, their natural curiosity and love of being together made all of it possible. There was no need for any classroom management because there was no classroom. We were living life together and loving each other and spending time together and it was very good.
Issac discovered GNU Paint on Ubuntu and spent the afternoon happily learning the basics of a paint program.
The kids have been doing a ton of Wii Fit (so have hubby and I–it is a great low impact workout for me and hubby has lost about 7 lbs because of the daily workout.) It has really helped Rach with her balance issues as well as helping her recognize her eating habits and develop better ones (so has The Lord’s Table for Children which she has been working through. It has really helped her attitude towards food.)
Rach is working on a new website, working from the bottom up. She started by installing WordPress and now is learning Gimp and CSS so she can design it from scratch. Today she spent several hours learning to use Gimp and brainstorming blog names. She came up with a super cute one–cute enough to inspire a painting for the header (I had intended to let her design it completely but she was tickled when I offered to paint it for her. You can see a sneak preview here.
Aside from these things the kids have been baking, learning to help with the house more (since I have been working about 30 hours a week designing several websites for clients.) Watching tons of educational movies, reading tons of books, acting out Bible stories (they spent two days “playing” Joshua and the fall of Jericho with an old tent in the basement. We are without car again so we have done a ton of staying home working on projects, like cleaning out bed rooms, getting rid of clothes that no longer fit, rearranging furniture. Both girls have also been getting a ton of use out of their Eeepc’s and Issac has enjoyed having the other computer all to himself. I also found out that my son has an extraordinary amount of knowledge about volcanoes. I knew he watched tons of volcano movies over and over but didn’t realize he had been absorbing the information involved. We were talking at bed time one night recently and he started explaining pyroclastic flow to me. What a funny thing to hear come out of 7 year old’s mouth.
Another interesting thing is that we, as a family, are reading through the Bible daily together. We are going chronologically which is very interesting (I have read through multiple times but never chrono.) The girls have always been very engaged in it but having Shamus involved is really helping Issac get interested. Today he informed me that we are reading Leviticus which is the law. It really has been such a blessing. And since we home-church anyway, it has meshed well–now we pray together and read daily, about 3 chapters, and on Saturday we sing a little as well. We are really enjoying the dailiness of it all instead of fussing about church on Sunday and it being something we HAVE to get through, this way is an enjoyable family thing that we do together.
On a side note I want to mention the awesome fingerless gloves with pockets for heat packs my dear friend Melissa sent me. They are making it so I can actually type despite being frozen. She is awesome! I will post a photo of them soon. I would right now except it is dark in here and I am enjoying them too much.
I am finally at a pause in all the busy-ness and wanted to share some unschooling type photos with you. We finally got some warm weather which meant, of course, the end of ice skating this year. So on the day it was still cold enough but warming quickly my dad picked us up for some more ice skating (because our car has issues with cold weather).
We were met with this:
About 20 turkeys were roosting in the trees and came down as we pulled in.
A cool thing we learned this year. It is better to put ice skates on in the warm garage but the garage is at the top of the hill and the ice at the bottom which means that there is only one way to get down that makes any sense.
We had had some snow but since we knew it was going to melt didn’t bother to clear the ice–which made ice skating kind of different than usual.
It was gorgeous and rather warm.
Once the ice got too soft to skate on it was time for tobogganing.
And Mom, onto the ice.
And some bird watching.
Then warming up in the garage and playing with a 1 ton pulley and pretending to drive the tractor (which lead to a discussion of all the simple machines in use and how a snow blower works.)
Oh, and some squirrel watching.
And today most of the snow and ice are gone. It was 50 yesterday and today it was 40. And of course last night I found MY ice skates (I have been borrowing my mom’s which are slightly too big.)
- I gave up and cut my hair. I have been getting a lot of headaches lately and it hurts to have my heavy, thick hair up and it bugs me to have it down so chop-chop. I did ask the kids if it would be all right (I kept it long because they loved it) but too much is enough. And so, my new head: It is frizzy here because my hair is naturally VERY wavy and I hadn’t used a straight iron (which surprisingly does not straighten it though it does smooth it.) Yes I cut it myself using lots of time and mirrors and hair clips. I hate having someone else do it because my hair is tricksie and they always mess it up. This is my favorite cut, is flattering on most people and looks good with my favorite accessories–hats and hoop earrings. No straight on shot because I was having a hard time getting the camera set up.:)
- The girls have been working hard at learning to draw and paint better and have been using my poor sad bunny as a model (no, I do not own an actual model, he is out of my head and the kids are using him as a spring board for their own paintings. We have bunnies EVERYWHERE. It is my humble opinion that these bunnies are BREEDING.
- Issac has been enjoying what snow we have been having (off and on, snow then rain then back again, driving us all insane–“Make up your MIND!” The girls built giant snowmen down in the field and Issac worked on a speed bump.
- Rachel has been spending every possible moment either playing chess with her new board or trying to convince someone to play with her. Here she is with a friend (sporting a new haircut which I had just done a few moments before and which reminded me how much I LOVE this haircut.) They had a great game while their brothers who are the same age were upstairs cleaning up a bit of a mess.
- The mess? Oh my. Do you KNOW how many teeny, tiny Styrofoam balls are in one of those squishy nylon pillows? Especially the squishy purple marshmallow bunny pillow? I am STILL cleaning up those stupid little balls. The boys found the balls that had come out of the peep which the girls KEPT instead of throwing away and dumped them in every, single corner of the mess (which the girls were supposed to have cleaned) of a room which is the girls. You see the mound of laundry? That was AFTER I took several loads downstairs. The girls had left PILES of clothes and blankets on the floor which were then covered in very static-y little balls. The 2 7 year old boys had to clean as much as they could but the girls then had to deep clean their room (like they were supposed to).
- I got a new camera which is wonderful and capable of taking lowlight photos without a flash which is why these photos exist –usually I wouldn’t have enough light to take these. And it takes MUCH better photos of my art without a lot of lightboxes and fuss–this shot below is right off my drawing table no extra light or anything.
- Oh, and then there are the elephants. I am still working on the new website for my art so I posted it over at Elasah.com but I got a new palatte and watercolor journal and jumped in and did this weeks Inspire me Thursday which you can see here:
Hubby says that now I have to dye it blue or purple so I can look like one of our favorite anime characters, and it is AWFULLY tempting:
This is part 2 of a series (you can find the first here). In this post I share our favorite board games and how we have adapted these games to be more educational or more suited to different ages, not to mention some games we would love to get a hold of.
First, the games. I linked to them on Amazon.com so you can see what I am talking about. There are lots more that we have and even more great games available that we don’t happen to have.
- Scrabble Crossword Game
- Number Rings
- Uno Card Game
- Monopoly Here and Now World
- The Game of SCATTERGORIES
- Cranium Hullabaloo
- Perpetual Notion One Word Changes Everything
- Stare! Junior Game – 2nd Edition
- Blink Game
- Chessex Dice: Pound of Dice
Now I will get into how we have adapted each one for different ages. KEep in mind our kids are 2 years apart each so they have spent most of their lives at slightly different stages but close enough in age that they all wanted to play. We have had other junior games like Hi-ho Cherrio but these are ones that we have had for ages and have played since they were small.
- Scrabble: When they were learning their letters we would get this out and play letter recognition–you can use it for go fish style games as well as making words and copying words. Later we played so that the younger kids got points for making small words or even just attempting to sound it out, even if it was wrong. Now we play for real though we seldom keep score.
- Boggle: The same goes for this one. Those letter dice are awesome for new readers. Usually when I play with the kids I switch all the letters so they are facing the youngest and play upside down. The new reader is allowed to make 2 and 3 letter words and gets extra points for spelling correctly. I only make 4 letter words and up or take half the points for each.
- Number Rings: This game is AWESOME for the math challenged. My 7 year old figured out how to do multiplication because of it. With younger kids I allow them to figure out whichever number instead of having to attach the numbers to the previous ones. We also fudge a bit on being allowed to put rings on other players numbers and removing them. The rules on this are very adaptable, and even come with multiple ways to play.
- Uno: This one is easy for even young players to get and is great for learning numbers and colors as well as right and left.
- Monopoly:Okay, I HATE monopoly, always have, but my kids love it. They did have monopoly junior but moved quickly to the regular version. We usually cut this one short, and give the younger ones help with money.
- Blokus: LOVE this one. This one has tons of adaptions in the rules and can be played in groups as well. My son was able to play this game easily from the start and occasionally even beat his older sisters. It can also be played individually, which makes it a nice whenever game that works on visual perception. It can also be used for learning colors.
- Scategories: This one is good to play with those who can already write and read but we have often played it in pairs so that the non readers can play as well.
- Perpetual Notion: Another that requires reading. This one gets the imagination moving.
- Stare: A fun game our neighbor got the kids. I believe she bought them the junior edition so I have not tried the grown up version. Great for visual memory and can easily be adapted (the grownup can adapt the question to the child’s age level.)
- Blink: Haven’t tried it yet but the kids have been playing and love it–another memory type game.
- Whiz Kids: I couldn’t find a link to this but we LOVE this game. You can also play it without cards. Someone names a type of thing and then the others try to come up with as many of that type as possible–simila rto scttergories but no writing so good for the car.
- Trivia games: any will do. We love playing well worded trivia games, especially in the car. (I HATE poorly worded ones–ones wher ethe answer isn’t necessarily the only answer to the question.) We have several that someone will read while we are in the car and someone else will try to answer.
- Dice: Dice are awesome! You can use them for all sorts of games. Sometimes we take a pile , role them, and see who can come up with the highest number by adding subtracting, multiplying, dividing. Other times we just do one sort of math with them. Still other times we do a story telling kind of game, like D&D and use the dice to figure out the results of various situations. When my son was younger he would play with them and tell me the numbers. You can also use dice to figure out which passage to read or which workbook page to do. Very fun way of making things random. We have also used blank dice and used them to make other games.
This is part 1 of a series. In this post I explain why we play games and how we play them so that kids don’t kill each other because they are loosing. I will also talk about how we adapted games to suit different age levels and how our games have changed as the kids have grown.Future posts in this series will give more specific games, ways we have played them, and the educational benefit of each.
Everyone was talking about games yesterday, which got me thinking about our favorites. We play a lot of games around here–video games, board games, computer games, physical games, word games, you name it. Games are a big part of an unschooling lifestyle and we, despite being a non-competitive family, love games.
We have found that games are the perfect prompt when nothing else will get a kid moving in the right direction. When boredom hits it is time for a game. A long car ride or a visit to the doctors office means it is time for a game. A quiet evening or a rainy afternoon is time for a game. Games are what happen when we have a guest, or when someone is away from home, when we are out of movies, or when we are waiting in line. A question, more often than not, is enough to prompt a game. Because we don’t do traditional school the kids think of questions as games.
“How do you spell…..?”
“Can you find….?”
“How do they make….?”
“Why do you think….?”
Occasionally a statement will start it.
“Nibble, nibble little ___________, who’s been nibbling on my ____________?”
“I have ____ _____and I need ____, how many more do I need?”
“I spy with my little eye something ______ .”
Sometimes the game is a simple question answer game, sometimes a game is on the computer, on the Wii, verbal, physical, a board game, a scavenger hunt, whatever suits the moment. And almost always, the game gets adjusted to suit our needs. Very seldom do we play strictly by the rules and often (much to the consternation of my mother-in-law) the rules get tossed completely. Games of Scrabble degrade into a crossword game of how many words can we make fit on the board. Games of toss degrade into how far away can I get and still catch the football. Even video games degrade into a game of pretend (Mario has spent more time being a brother to someone else than looking for Sunshine sprites) or games of dress-up (my kids have designed numerous superheroes for City of Heroes though they have never played the game.) More often than not it starts when someone playing a traditional game says “what if” and we all try to see what the results will be. Sure it means that we don’t remember the original rules for most games but we get to adapt and create and learn all sorts of things we wouldn’t be learning if we stuck to the rules.
When the kids were younger we adapted every game so that it was simpler to play (we didn’t buy Jr. editions because those are usually boring but we simplified the rules so each child could play and enjoy themselves). We also found that usually it is better NOT to keep score. Yes, we keep score when we play with grownups but if we are playing ourselves we don’t. Instead we focus on having fun and coming up with ways to make the game better.
If we do keep score then we use handicap or allow those who are at a different stage of learning to have different rules so the game is less frustrating. When we play word games then the non-reader (or early reader) gets points for recognizing or spelling any real words instead of 3 letter words (like in Boggle). If they are very new readers then they get a partial point just for finding a word even if it isn’t spelled quite right–I correct their spelling so they know next time but they get a half point for trying to find a word. As they learn they get less of a cushion and are expected to do it right. Now that I have all readers with only one new reader we play more by the original rules without much frustration.
My goal is for them to love the games without being frustrated at not having the knowledge or understanding to actually play. We find that by adapting the games to each child’s needs they still enjoy playing even if they are not very good at it, and the bonus is that as they play and we adapt the rules they get better at the game until they get to the point where they can actually play the game for real.
We ended up spending another week at the pond, then staying over a night at Grandma’s due to car troubles. We have not slept at home since last Monday. Long story short I ended up doing some more painting because I had more to do and Rach asked to stay at her grandma’s over night. We didn’t take into account the fact that the cold damp weather would mean that the paint would take longer to dry. Sigh.
However we had many awesome learning opportunities at the pond–talk about interest led learning–it was an awesome experience! The kids got to help install a hot water tank, explore the old hot water tank and figure out how it worked and what went wrong, build a pirate ship/submarine out of the hot water tank box, watch movies, read numerous books, play card games, play on the paddle boat, see a doe my mom got hunting–her first with her bow which we walked up to see in the dark so they could se eit before it went to the butcher the next morning, star gaze–looking for known constellations and making up our own, as well as…
Learn to golf,
Enjoy watching birds, chipmunks, turkeys, and squirrels and all God’s creation,
Ecosystems and building,
Developing family relationships,
Building lean-to’s/survival training
I also got a few small paintings nearly finished and the girls got to practice being left alone for short periods of time (Rach longs to be able to stay home alone and letting them practice in a cottage surrounded by family on 13 acres of woods is much safer than at home where we live near a major high way.) And just when we thought we were going to stay home we visited grandma and the car acted up meanign we stayed over night there (the lights were dimming too much to drive home at night– known alternator issues okay as long as we drive during the day.) It has been a week full of God’s blessings and interventions once again, and the learning has been amazing to behold.
Friday night, as part of my son’s birthday celebration, my mom and stepdad took the kids (and I) to my alma mater’s last home football game. Before we went they practiced archery.
It was already cold and would get much, much colder. The kids argued with me about how much clothing to bring–they kept telling me they weren’t cold. Later they would change their tune when it got down into the 30’s.
Until half time the kids complained all about how cold it was and how bored they were. Finally my stepdad and my mom decided to take them home at half time and I was going to stay and bring my kid brother home later. Then the girls changed their tune and decided to stay with me for the rest of the game.
I spent lots of time explaining the rules and helping them see what was going on. It got to a point where they were shouting at all the right times without my help. 🙂 (This was one of our big rivals, and had been since before I went to school. The other team kept doing things and not getting caught, our sidegetting frustrated and finally getting tough at the end–in fact at that point the refs grabbed both coaches and laid into them about their teams bad attitudes.)
The other team beat us significantly but it was a fun gameand the girls learned a ton about Football. 🙂