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On teaching a foreign language and losing a camera

Taking up our German lessons once again, I send the children out with a list of things to find and photograph: a hen, a cockerel, chicks, eggs and chicken feed. They leave excited; I begin to clean. Their picture taking expeditions always take three or four times longer than they should. Sometimes they even remember what it is they were sent out to do amidst all the pictures they take.

Moments later, they return.

“The camera doesn’t work, mom.”

“What’s wrong?” I ask, as I take it. I’ve been having problems with it, but up until now turning it off and on a few times cleared it.

“It just keeps telling us it has a focusing error.”

I turn the camera off and on. Again and again. Nothing. The camera is dead. Normally, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal to go a month or two without a camera. I don’t take that many pictures. I sort of go in spurts, and most of the time when I do think about it, it is only because I have something in mind for my blog.

But this is different. It was messing with my plans, and I never take too kindly to that. These plans went far beyond this one assignment. It was part of an intentional act on my part to make our lessons more involved. To focus less on “getting done” and more on the process. It is an adjustment I have to frequently make for no matter how hard I try, in the hectic mess of the day to day, I frequently resort to streamlining lessons down to the “essentials.” But mom and child do not always agree on the “essentials” and I tend to remove the most engaging portions in the interest of time.

As I sat with the children to choose pictures from Picasa and the internet, I found myself becoming rather distraught. I went from the mild annoyance of having to change my plans to real disappointment at losing this part of our summer adventure. My daughter and I had been planning a short video series, and while I wasn’t sure I’d ever have the courage to actually post any of them, I was looking forward to the shared project. And then there are all the things we’re planning.

Our chicks are growing, along with those mop tops. Our geese should be arriving in a couple weeks. There’s the oil change on the tractor my son was going to help his father with. Our garden. Our bees. Our year of plans.

Now of course, a camera isn’t that expensive. But moving is and most of our extra money is spoken for. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the heat pump hadn’t gone out. Then the car. Then the tires. Which means that for the moment, simply replacing it isn’t so simple.

It means choosing. Would I prefer to replace the camera or rent the tiller? Replace the camera, or finish the fencing to protect the garden from the deer? Replace the camera or purchase our hive? In short, which is more important: the projects or the ability to record them?

Back to the assignment at hand, the children cut their pictures and carefully glue them in place. Each is labeled carefully in German, a task even my writing-averse son takes seriously. Their books turn out nicely, and all week we practice. First, they find the pictures while mom says the German. Then I begin to form simple sentences, using the pictures as clues. They translate and when they have it, they repeat. We do the same sentences every day, turning pages to reinforce the vocabulary for the week.

And it only takes two days for my three year old to stop shouting indignantly,

“That is not an eye! That’s an egg!”

when I get to “das Ei.”

I can’t wait to add to this simple book this week, and get back into regular German lessons.

I only wish we had a camera.

_________________

To make a simple pictorial dictionary, all you need is a sheet of paper and pictures of your vocabulary words. We did a simple eight page mini-book. Glue a picture to each page and label accordingly. Make sure each word is conceptually related and it will help your children learn the words in context, more like how they learn words in English. These can be collected together in a folder, glued together in a lapbook or even bound together. However you choose to store them, be sure they are accessible and to use them frequently in your mini-lessons.

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What are your summer homeschool plans? (With linky)

There’s been a bit of discussion in my Twitter stream recently about summer homeschool plans. Do you take the summer off? Do you plow ahead at full steam? Continue but in a different gear?  We have always, always, homeschooled through the summer, but that doesn’t exactly mean we’re groaning under the weight of textbooks and worksheets in the house while the birds are singing outside.

In the summer, I’m completely free from that and any nagging sense of “well, if I wrote it on that stupid form, I really should try my best to get to it.” Instead, we are free to make lilac jelly. We didn’t make a lapbook or track anything in a notebook. We didn’t fill out a single worksheet or even jot down a single note. We did, however, make jelly. We learned what pectin is and why you have to put so much sugar in the jelly. We found a whole list of edible flowers and looked up when the more interesting ones bloom. We’re thinking of planting a significant amount of violets and roses for the express purpose of making jelly from their petals.

That, you may say, isn’t exactly homeschooling. It’s life with children. Intentional life, I would stress, noting that this is what homeschooling is all about.

The only real difference is that I free us from record keeping. So our plans for this summer?

  • Mouse is working on reclaiming several old flower gardens and planning a bird and butterfly garden to fill out where the grass took over.
  • Inspired by the natural playground at Pioneers Park, the children are planning a natural play space as an extension of their forts.
  • We’re learning the names of all the farm equipment that now surrounds us.
  • We’ll be getting to know our “neighborhood” with numerous day trips to the various attractions here in southeast Nebraska.
  • We’ll be learning about our own small tractor, its history, and its maintenance.
  • Hopefully, if we can swing it, we’ll be starting our own beehive yet this spring.
  • Soon we shall have our geese. They’ve been delayed twice already, so I’m a little nervous this might not work out, but I’m still holding out hope for this May 25th date.
  • And of course, there are our chickens, a daily source of entertainment, protein and education. Especially was we move rapidly toward our first slaughter date. We’ll see how well one can process a chicken using primarily tutorials found on the Internet!

So yes, we’re homeschooling straight through the summer. But there won’t be any groaning, or longing stares out the window. If all goes as well as it has in the past, the children will not whine about their assignments again until August when they think our homeschooling starts back up.

When I do summer school right, they very rarely notice that’s what they’re doing.

So what are your plans for this summer?

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Every American boy needs a shed

When I first heard the John Williamson song, The Shed, I thought it an odd subject for a folk song. After all, when he sings “Every Australian boy needs a shed…” I couldn’t help but think about a woodshed and we all know what happens when you take a boy out to the woodshed. And it’s not a subject for folk songs.  But it isn’t at all what the song is about. It’s about needing a place to get away, be yourself and pursue your own projects even if the roof leaks and the whole thing sways on windy days.

A joint to learn to read an’ write, to work on his bike at night
To grow up as he likes, to grow anything under lights
A place to keep his tools, nuts and bolts and drills
To hang a hide, to hide the dry or hang to pay the bills

I think it is why children are drawn to building forts and clubhouses and tree houses. For as much as they like being underfoot, they also have a need to carve out their own space. Their own private space. It may be in the attic, under a stairwell or even under a blanket thrown over some chairs, but it is a place to get out from under the immediate influence of parents and be themselves.

My children have been busy claiming a closed off section of the hen house, a small room with the door boarded shut and a loft area that can only be accessed through a small window. The younger ones require a boost up and help down from the older ones and there is something so very touching watching the four of them work together to slip through. I don’t really know what goes on in there aside from a bit of hammering and occasional requests for scrap lumber, but it is their small space and they seem to get along much better when they escape there.

The next project is to clear a space for them in the barn to keep all their treasures. Snail shells, antler sheds, mouse skulls…all those delightful things children come across and cannot bear to part with despite the limited room for such things in the house.

So yeah, every boy (and girl) does need a shed. Or at least a small space they can carve out as their own if only for a little while.

Come to think of it, I think mom does, too.

Where do your children escape to? And how actively do you encourage that time to themselves?

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Free lesson download for Holy Week

Yeah, I know. I really should have put this up Friday because you really should have started this yesterday if you want to be on top of celebrating Holy Week according to, you know, the traditional week. Beginning Palm Sunday. Which I totally spaced until about ten last night and I wasn’t about to pull all my sleeping children out of bed just to keep on track.

After all, we have our own traditions to keep and one of the ones we keep best is “Oh yeah. Yesterday was a holiday.”

I hope you enjoy Walking With Jesus His Final Days. Feel free to share the study but please leave my links in tact. Should you be so kind as to share this link, please link to this entry rather than directly to the document.

Free unit for holy week

Anyway, we did this last year and the children really enjoyed using the toys to tell and retell the readings for each day. It is sort of like an Easter version of the Jesse Tree with objects to go along with each day’s reading, except instead of decorating a tree, we filled a container garden with toys that the children then got to play with all day.

And as for me and my house, well, it is Palm Sunday our time. Until lunch. Then I think I’ll let it be Monday and our little project will be on track until we skip a day again.

 

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Incorporating homeschooling and family decisions

Sitting down to dinner, my daughter suddenly asks,

Did you know that the cotton patch goose was important to people during the Great Depression?

No, honey, I didn’t. Why is that?

Her eyes light up and, closing her eyes to remember her reading she ticks off their uses.

The backyard flock was an important source of eggs, meat and grease.  And it was called the cotton patch goose because it was used to weed cotton patches!

I am glad to see her enjoying her research project so much. She is even finally talking about adding to her website again because she has gotten excited about the project.

See, we want geese and she has been given the important task of determining which breed would be best for us. I gave her a list of questions to help guide her, focusing on heritage breeds, which has spawned many interesting conversations about our relationship to the food we eat.

She finds it somewhat disconcerting that chickens and turkeys have been so selectively bred that they can no longer survive outside their climate controlled sheds, couldn’t find food if they had to, and cannot reproduce without someone’s help. She looked at our chickens wandering the property, scratching back the dead grass from last year searching out sprouts and insects and thought that was just how chickens should be raised.

Returning to her research, she discovers the Sebastopol. Delighted with their long, curly feathers, she announces that she has found her favorite goose and is pretty sure she knows what we should get. I encourage her to finish, to examine all the breeds but otherwise bite my tongue.

Because you see, I’ve already done all this research. Not intentionally, really. Just that once we decided to get geese, I couldn’t help but read everything I came across about them. I fell in love with the Pilgrim goose after reading an article in Backyard Poultry, and everything I cam across after that just served to confirm this docile little creature as a perfect fit for our family and experience level.

This is where it gets difficult. At least for me. I already know what I want, but I’ve given Mouse the responsibility of researching the best breed because I want this to be educational. I didn’t want her to pull up a chair and have me show her why we were getting Pilgrim geese. I wanted her to come up with the characteristics we desired most, research breeds and come to a decision she would then defend with her presentation.

Was I really willing to let go of my preferences for the sake of my daughter’s education?

“Oh, mom,” she whines. “The Sebastopol needs to have water to swim in all the time.”

She thinks about our old bathtub and how we could fill it and clean it. But she seems to have some sense of how much work that would be, several times a day, in order to keep her favorite goose. Disappointed, she fills out her check list and moves to the next breed.

In the end, she does a pretty nice job on her presentation. She argues nicely for heritage breeds, though they are a bit more expensive. She notes that many of these breeds are considered endangered and that we can help make sure they survive as a breed by raising them and breeding them ourselves. And she compares the geese on the main traits she has decided suit us best: lack of aggression, ability to forage, ease of differentiating the sexes and quality of meat.

She decides on the Pilgrim goose.

And I’m happy. Not because of her choice in goose, but because she was able to come up with several criteria and judge the suitability of the different breeds for our family. There were several geese which would have worked well for us, but she was able to set aside her personal preference based on looks in favor of characteristics she had already determined were more important. That isn’t the easiest skill to teach, but she seems to have learned it well.

If you have Power Point, you can take a peek at her work: Why Geese?

How do you incorporate your family decisions into homeschooling?