Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Engineering for Curious Minds

Legos cover the living room. Piles of "special" parts lace the fringes. Organized and easily accessible.

Three days and counting (yes, we even left them out as we anticipated guests, because the learning was just that amazing). Couldn't stop progress!

Day one, a Civil War camp was erected. Yesterday, a pulley system brought water to the soldier's camp.

Today, a catapult was designed. Three sisters, different ages, working together. Asking questions. Collaborating. Problem solving. Once in awhile, I hear, "Mom, will this work?" Though I feel somewhat limited in my engineering abilities, working together we were able to figure out a solution.

In the midst of the process, in an effort to help my daughter understand the science behind a catapult, I found a video about potential and kinetic energy. The contents moved mind gears in a different direction. I wonder if I will find a roller coaster in my living room tomorrow?

More engineering

More science

Monday, June 24, 2013

Learning Not Measured by Paper

"What if there is no paper trail to our learning? What do I write on my log? How do I show progress?" This is a great, three-prong question, one I have been asked for years.

According to statute in our state (in regards to our portfolio of records- click on link for more details regarding other portions of the statute):

(b) The parent shall maintain a portfolio of records and materials. The portfolio shall consist of the following:
1. A log of educational activities that is made contemporaneously with the instruction and that designates by title any reading materials used.
2. Samples of any writings, worksheets, workbooks, or creative materials used or developed by the student.

This parent understood what records she was required to keep according to statute and she knew educational progress was being made. As she and her children played Pizza Fraction Fun, one child figured out two halves made a whole pizza. Another discovered two quarters was equal to one half. But how would she log the learning?

The activity was the playing of the game and the game was the "material used". The mom could simply write "Pizza Fraction Fun game" (in the math column if her log is broken down as such) or just write "Pizza Fraction Fun game" under the date of the week it occurred. Her children could draw picture representations of the fractions they learned or which fraction combinations could be created (adding fractions) to make a whole pizza (drawing a visual representation is an essential part of expressing math).  Photographs could be taken as the "samples" or "creative materials" if the mom wanted to include so in her portfolio of work samples. These are only suggestions of ways the learning could be noted. There are others, I am sure.

Another parent, a parent of a high schooler, inquired:

"We spent two hours researching bank accounts for high schoolers. We compared what banks offered, discussed minimum balance, ATM draws, debit cards, and interest. I know we learned valuable information, but how do I log what we learned."

Parents have many options. There are no specific ways regarded to log. A simple sentence could be written. If notes are kept during the research, those could be added to the portfolio. The major points of discussion (bank account discussion- minimum balance, ATM draws, debit cards, and interest) could be noted under an appropriate course- life skills, personal finance. A photo of the teen holding her first deposit slip. Something that denotes the discussion taking place. Remember, if the high schooler had to explain what they learned, they would be able (due to the intrinsic nature of the lesson) to recount what was discussed and subsequent actions taken, if there were any.

Logs and samples, and how those items contribute to progress, will vary from family to family. Embrace what you are learning alongside your children. When learning cannot be measured in paper, be creative (but honest!) Tape the parts you dissected from a flower to construction paper. Photocopy a handwritten letter to grandma to show composition, grammar, spelling, and handwriting abilities. Take a picture of the geography puzzle siblings worked together to solve. Ask your children how they could document what they learned. They sometimes have amazing ideas, perhaps recounting something you did not realize they learned. Do not limit learning to only those activities which can be measured in paper. So much more learning potential awaits our children.

*This blog post is not intended to be legal counsel. As home educators, parents hold the responsibility as to the education of their children.

Friday, June 21, 2013

We DID Accomplish Something!

"I can't believe we did all this!"                                                

"Look at my photo book!"

"My reading list is HUGE!"

"I can't wait to show you the book I wrote!"

The exclamations of evaluation season are exhilarating! Children astounded by what they learned, eager to share what they accomplished. These are the days of summer, when children sit at our table and page through work samples and explain projects which denote the progress of their year. Booklists. Art pieces. Maps. Rock collections.

In our state we are blessed to have portfolio evaluations as an option for our annual home education reviews. My children, and the children of families we evaluate (my husband is a state certified teacher), appreciate this option. Evaluation days are show-and-tell days, days when parents and children see the fruits of a year well spent, remembering relationships built, whether with grandma or the local baker who hands out free cookies. Who doesn't like the opportunity to share what they accomplished? Children wait all year for evaluation day.

And moms? Speaking from experience, putting our children's portfolios together is hard work filled with satisfaction. Seeing the binder expand as projects, papers, photo sleeves, and pamphlets are added, reminds me that, indeed, we did accomplished quite a bit. Refreshment to my heart as I remember the days when I asked, "Are we getting anything done?"

As this weekend approaches and passes, Monday will arrive and once again the doorbell will ring. On the other side of the door waits a child, eager to page through a portfolio. The child's smiling face is the product of the wondrous, creative opportunities made possible by parents who sacrifice time and energy to educate their children. Now that is the ultimate accomplishment!

*This blog post is not intended to be legal counsel. As home educators, parents hold the responsibility as to the education of their children.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Our Eric Carle Unit Study

The Wonderful Art of Eric Carle

(An elementary level, week-long, in-depth study of several titles by the beloved Eric Carle.)

Eric Carle is a talented author/illustrator who excites and inspires young readers with bold illustrations and teachable content. Our youngest four children (preschool to fourth grade) enjoyed a week-long study of Eric Carle. In addition to the experiences mentioned below, we completed many of the activities in Check These Out. By the end of the week, each child proudly displayed her book of Eric Carle art which was bound with a strip of fabric.

On the first day we re-read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, discussed the life cycle of a butterfly and created our own tissue paper collage caterpillar. We watched a biographical video entitled Eric Carle, Picture Writer, set in his studio. Our children loved learning about the man and story behind the stories. 

On the second day we read The Very Busy Spider and discussed the benefits of hard work. Our preschooler made the sounds of the animals and our elementary children discussed the differences between spiders and insects. We all marveled at the raised web on each page of The Very Busy Spider. When it came time to make our own spider page, the fourth grader remembered we had silver glitter glue in the art cabinet, which in her opinion, would make the perfect web. The younger children agreed and soon four very busy spiders were created.

On the third day we read The Grouchy Ladybug. We discussed good and bad attitudes, friendship, manners and the power of the spoken word. Our first grader had a quick review of telling time to the hour, with the help of the clock on each page of Eric Carle's book. Older children found the life cycle of the ladybug fascinating. Finally, we made our own ladybugs with wings which opened (thanks to a brass fastener) to reveal the words "thank you".  Google eyes brought life to the ladybug.

On the fourth day we read Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me.  We talked about the phases of the moon and were determined to watch the moon for a whole month to observe the phases.  For the young ones, we discussed the difference between fiction and non-fiction. We concluded that the book was fiction because a ladder would never reach the moon. We then compared the illustrations of the books we had read and created our own fold-out ladder page for our art book. Later that evening we read Mister Seahorse, discussed the sea life featured in the book and the important role parents play in the lives of their children.  We used scraps of tissue paper from the previous days to create a tissue paper seahorse.

On the fifth day we wrote the corresponding book title on each art masterpiece and bound our book by weaving a scrap of fabric through three paper-punched holes.

Our week did not end there! After analyzing and comparing the art of Eric Carle to the work of other artists, we headed back to the library where our youngest ones selected more Eric Carle titles. Our three year old warmly stated, "Eric Carle is my favorite illustrator." Several weeks later, while on yet another visit to the library, I received another surprise.  I mentioned I needed Mister Seahorse. The library volunteer asked, "Who is the author?" Our six year old chimed in, "Eric Carle."

Just what I had hoped!  In addition to the academics learned, our four budding artists were able to identify, compare, and critique illustrations.



The summer may be hot, but the elementary learners in my house decided to cool off on a three day adventure with penguins!

After watching March of the Penguins, our curious little ones checked out several library books about penguins.

The books inspired us to make a lap book about penguins.  Most of our resources came from Evan Moor's January Theme Pocket.   Instead of making a pocket book, we glued file folders together, accordion style, (cutting a rounded top for the top of the penguin-shaped book) to make the framework of our lap book.  We covered the front cover with black construction paper, rounding the top, and added a white oval for the penguin's tummy.  Orange feet were added to the squared-off bottom.  A triangle beak and round white eyes became the face.  Inside the book we made pockets for the information we collected, glued a map to one page, made a graph of penguin heights, and sponge-painted a page with an arctic scene.  One arctic scene can be seen in the photo above.  We hope our cool arctic adventure inspires you to cool off during these warm months!

Spelling Cereal

Two weeks after an incredible "buy one get one free" sale and an impromptu spelling lesson with the cereal purchased at the sale, Dad was home, watching the young ones while I headed off to an appointment. When Dad asked what each child would like for breakfast, the four year old promptly asked, "Dad, could I have some of that spelling cereal?"

Dad wasn't quite sure whether spelling cereal was a breakfast choice or one of our educational games.  Upon further questioning, the four year old exhorted, "Dad, just open the pantry."

He did and quickly found out that spelling cereal was indeed a breakfast choice. It was letter-shaped cereal we had used for spelling a few days prior.

When I arrived home, my husband quipped, "Will you quit having so much fun with the kids!" I snickered.

Reflections from the Laundry Room

The laundry room.

Do you have a place in your home where treasured memories are stored? Maybe important papers? Maybe journals of days past? One (yes, that assumes there are others) of mine was a box in the laundry room. It was way up high atop the file cabinet (yes we still own one).

Last night I began the PROCESS of dejunking the laundry room, under the influence of my very organizational-minded daughter. It started with the box.

I began digging. Tossed some papers in the trash. Read entries from my college journal, the one I kept while dating Mike. Shared some of my thoughts with our children and then made a "keep" pile. Next I pulled out a binder of notes I had scrawled on napkins, scraps, and bulletins; a book someday. I added the binder to the "keep" pile. Another binder. This one from back in the 1990s when I was a homeschool support group leader, penning a monthly encouragement column for the newsletter (remember those "newsletter" days?). I sat, reading over the columns, smiling at the names, remembering field trip moments and living history events. People I had known, people I walked the homeschooling journey with, fifteen to twenty years ago.

As I sat reading, I remembered my early years of home education when my oldest were five, seven, maybe ten years old. I purposed to provide an environment of love, grace, enrichment; a place where they could be challenged intellectually but yet love to learn, to dig deeper but also master their math facts and memorize the periodic table. I planned my days with the "goal" or "what I thought they would need" when they walked over our threshold. I loved those days. Blossoming with potential, fresh with anticipation, hope and aspiration. I loved being a mom, being with my children, watching every light bulb light. I considered how their early passions—strategy, the outdoors, people, analytics — might be used in their future.

Forward to today. The oldest are now young adults, one graduated from college, pursuing an MBA, working full time, the other embarking on upper level classes in physical therapy. Each of them unique. But here is the interesting least to me, the lesson I reflect on. The lesson which will impact the education of the ones still at home. Though I envisioned young men walking across my threshold, educated a certain way, prepared for certain things, I would have never dreamed my young strategist would be asked to teach small business skills to people in Haiti. Had I known that, I would have prepared him a different way!

But wait! Prepared him a different way? He IS prepared. That is the lesson I learned. Though we had our vision set on something totally different, God used our faithful prayers and provided EVERY opportunity my son needed today. His learning at home PREPARED him for where he is today. And, I am glad I really didn't know exactly what he would need, because in my heroic attempts to PREPARE him, I would have pigeon-holed him, given him too narrow a perspective, limited what I thought "he needed". There is no way I would have ever fathomed him teaching business skills to potential business owners in Haiti. And even if I did, how would I have taught those skills?

I look over my thoughts in those notebooks. All I thought I had to do. All I thought I knew, but really didn't understand. All the books I thought we had to read. All I purposed. All great things.

Now however, I see differently, what he took from his days in our home. The ability to communicate with others and work with individuals very different than himself. The ability to take risks, to visit places that might not be safe, for the sake of something bigger than he can understand. The ability to solve a problem, a problem he didn't even know he would have. The ability to pour his heart into something, not give up, and walk faithfully when the future is unknown.

Those boxes of treasured memories, the ones that are stored in the deep, dark corners of closets, atop tall places in the laundry room; I'm glad my daughter encouraged me to purge and organize. In the process I was able to reflect on our years and look to the future, with new anticipation. What opportunities will our children have ten years from now? I don't really know, and I am glad. That reflection causes me to use what we have and know today, to the best of our ability, with what is provided, and allow God to plant our feet to destination I cannot possibly know or understand.