let kids watch beauty and the beast

I homeschool so they can grow

Whenever a homeschooler wins the Scripps Spelling Bee, the National Geography Bee or  the Olympic Gold Medal, the internet buzzes as we all share what homeschooling is capable of. For a brief moment, these young champions become the poster children for the homeschool movement.

i homeschool so they can grow-min

But seriously, how many spelling bee champions do you know? I was happy when my oldest stopped putting random silent e’s at the ends of words. I could just picture her up there speaking nervously into the microphone:

Gesellschaft. G-E-S-E-L-L-S-C-H-A-F-T-E. Gesellschaft.

Except she never would have gotten that far.

Far. F-A-R-E. Far.

That girl has many talents, but spelling is not one of them.

And that’s OK. Because those headlines we share only tell part of the story — the part where homeschooling doesn’t hold a child back.

But sometimes, they can be a little intimidating, too. They set a high standard. One we can’t always live up to. One we shouldn’t even try to live up to. Because true education is not about reaching the pinnacle of success in any given area. It’s about growing in every area.

The success of homeschooling is based on its ability to meet each child where he or she is at and move forward from there.

There was a time I considered having my oldest tested for learning disabilities. At the time, I wasn’t sure what it would do for her. Being homeschooled, it didn’t necessarily give her any particular advantages to carry that label. It would have opened her up to services through the school, but I knew we probably wouldn’t go that route anyway. She already had an “individualized education plan” of sorts, though it carried no legal weight. It’s just that all my plans revolved around her strengths and weaknesses.

And she grew. She learned to read by the end of second grade. She was reading ahead of grade level by fourth grade. She has never mastered spelling (S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G-E), but she has developed a love of writing and she can tell a pretty good story if someone helps her through the editing. She struggles with basic math facts. In fact, it was sitting with her and the multiplication tables for two years that encouraged me to drop my 100% mastery idea. Back then, I didn’t believe in going forward until a concept was mastered. But that day, sitting at that table, I realized that she and I would be practicing multiplication until she graduated and she’d still probably have to use a calculator.

So I gave her a calculator and we moved on. And she still struggles with math, largely because she doesn’t like it. But she got through algebra and geometry and chemistry and she confessed that geometry is kind of fun as long as she isn’t doing proofs. She works the problems. She understands the formulas. She still has to use her calculator.

And I still can’t quite believe she is graduating this year.

It is easy for me to look back on her weaknesses and feel I’ve failed her. I feel like she should be doing better in these areas, not just “average.” But what if “average” was the best she was going to accomplish in spelling and basic number operations? What if it was our choice to homeschool that allowed her to move beyond that and not be held back by weaknesses that can be overcome by a calculator and spell-check?

She leaves for farrier school in two weeks. She will be gone for two months and has been so diligent in preparing that she has surprised even me, her mother who bore and raised her. Every morning, she gets up early to work through her exercise routine to prepare her for the physical demands of the course. She got the textbook early and filled a sketchbook with diagrams of muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves running through the leg of a horse. She made herself a set of flash cards and is determined to know the anatomy section of the textbook before she even arrives. She went through all her math and science books and marked how much she has to complete each day so that she can graduate on time, even with the two month interruption in her normal studies.

I told her the other day that the diligence she has shown over the last year will get her further in life than anything else she ever learned in school. That work ethic is why she already has an offer from CEF as soon as she is qualified for the position. Because in the end, skills and knowledge can be taught. Character, however, is not such an easy thing to “catch up” on.

As each of our children get older, we are trying to water those same seeds — a strong work ethic, a good character and a love for learning — so they can continue to grow into the young men and women God designed them to be.

This is part of the Blogging Through the Alphabet Challenge, where I am sharing some homeschool encouragement, from A to Z! Check out what I’ve written so far!

A is for Adventure
B is for Boredom
C is for Christ
D is for Daydreaming
E is for Every day
F is for Failure

let kids watch beauty and the beast

Everything you need to homeschool preschool (and you probably don’t need to buy anything at all)

Sitting around chatting with other homeschoolers, they almost invariably ask, “So what curriculum do you use to homeschool your preschooler?” And I stumble around for words, trying to explain what it is exactly we do. I know it comes out sounding more like, “Oh, we don’t do anything at all!”

homeschool preschool

Except that isn’t true. What I really want to say is something more like this. Preschool means pre – school. Before school. To have curriculum before school seems, well, somewhat disingenuous. I believe that children at that age should be running, jumping, climbing and exploring. They should be splashing in puddles, making forts under your furniture and asking, “Why?” “Why?” “Why?” A quality preschool should actually be Plan B, an institution’s best attempt at imitating family life, not the other way round.

Play is the work of a child.

Especially a young child. And to push curriculum . . . textbooks and workshets . . . too early interrupts their natural intellectual and emotional development.

Research backs this up over and over. As Germany was beginning to move away from play-based kindergartens (note that “kindergarten” in Germany is more like preschool here and takes children ages 3 – 5) and more toward instruction focused early learning, they conducted large scale research involving 100 kindergartens. While those who attended the more academically focused kindergartens did indeed show early advantages over their peers, these gains were not only lost but reversed by 4th grade. By then, graduates of play based kindergartens fared better on every measure used, especially in reading, mathematics and social development. The results were so clear that Germany moved away from the direct instruction model and has stuck with its play based model even to today.

Studies in the US have shown similar results, though they largely focus on poverty and it can be difficult to differentiate between the effects of early education programs and the lasting effects of poverty. Still, they indicate the same results. Children in more academically focused programs show early gains that seem to disappear by third or fourth grade, while those in play based preschool programs demonstrate better academic and social development.

Why do homeschoolers feel the need to homeschool preschool?

America, however, never has made any serious effort at reversing the trend toward direct instruction at earlier and earlier ages. Particularly schools in poorer areas get bogged down in test prep. I had to provide 45 minutes of test prep instruction a day as a first grade teacher. Schools are under incredible pressure to perform and they are passing that pressure down to students at earlier and earlier ages. Research or no, stepping away from academic instruction in favor of increased play time is a tremendous leap of faith that schools struggling with low test scores are just not willing to take.

Why do homeschoolers get caught up in the feeling that we need curriculum for preschoolers? Quite frankly, I think it’s because we’re inundated with it. Have you noticed that television programming and even toys aimed at young children now come with a list of the educational objectives met?

That and the message that really what your child needs is opportunities to explore and play guided by a parent willing to engage them in discussion, acting as guide in this crazy world doesn’t sell product. It doesn’t sell toys. It doesn’t sell television. It doesn’t sell books. And it doesn’t sell curriculum to those beginning homeschoolers who still feel like they’re competing with the public school system even as they’re experimenting with stepping out of it.

So what do preschoolers need?

You.

If you care enough to ask the question, you are probably already doing everything your child needs. This is what I believe preschool children need to help encourage their academic and social development:

  • A variety of toys to encourage fine and gross motor development as well as imagination.
  • A library, whether at home or provided through regular trips to the library.
  • To be involved in daily chores and activities.
  • Someone to answer their questions, even if the answer is, “Hmm, I wonder?”
  • Someone to narrate events and describe what is going on at home and on outings.
  • Outings. Around the neighborhood, on walks, to the store, to museums, to zoos.
  • A variety of textures. Sand, mud, water, dirt, play dough . . . whatever you have.
  • Crayons, markers, pencils and paint.
  • Time. Enough to get absorbed in a task of their own choosing.
  • Someone who will listen.
  • And most importantly, love. Love and support and encouragement.

Take heart. And have the courage to set the curriculum aside and focus on the play.

let kids watch beauty and the beast

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.

let kids watch beauty and the beast

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?

let kids watch beauty and the beast

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?