Monday, March 31, 2014

Homeschool Happenings

I have a habit of being overly enthusiastic about new routines.  We're only two weeks in with this one, so of course I'm loving it.  I can't help myself.  I love the idea of organization.  
This is not a new idea, just a new practice for us.  So far I'm finding it helpful, maybe you will too.  

But first a brief back story:  
I have recently been inspired by a homeschooling friend to re-explore some play-based and project based early childhood practices.  Specifically my friend was telling me about a curriculum developed in the 90's, called "Tools of the Mind".  It sounded very familiar to me, and the more I heard, the more I liked it. I made a note to look for a book.  Then, out of the blue, in the middle of the night (of course) this image came into my head, and suddenly I knew I not only had read the book she'd been referencing, but owned it.   
I resisted the urge to get up and search right then, but the next morning I found the book on our shelf, "Tools of the Mind: a Vygotsky approach to early childhood education."  It had been a text from my college years.  

I haven't read it for 15 years, but have read a few bits about the approach recently that reminded of some of the really cool things going on in these "tools" classrooms.  And so have been inspired to include a new practice in our daily routine.  (One of the coolest parts of this curriculum has to do with "planning to play" which is a different take on the plans we're making.  Their plans are set with the goal of helping young children learn to pretend play--which sadly is something many little kids seem to have forgotten how to do in recent history.  Since my kids spend more time in pretending than reality, we're planning the real stuff.  The pretend they've got covered.  If you work in a classroom this approach is worth looking into.)

The actual work we're doing each day hasn't changed, but I've added a "plan for the day" where each of us (Kale, Juniper,and I) make a plan for what and when we will do things each day. (Revolutionary!
Our planning sheet is a daily timeline from 9:00 am to 3:00pm slipped into a clear plastic sleeve.  We use dry erase to record our plans.  For the kids, I circle the things I want to work on with them, and they indicate when in the day then want to do them.  When there are things to do as a group I ask them to work together so the plans will correspond.  Then they add in any extra things they want to do, such as painting, playing with Playmobil guys, a special cooking project, sledding, etc.  

Of course there are some things that don't get done each day, and plenty gets done that wasn't planned. But, overall our planning has made a noticeable difference in the ease of transitions between work and play. Somehow when the plan is their own they are much more willing to move onto whatever is next. (A lesson I learn again and again from my kids--when its their idea it always works better!)
For myself  I have found that a timeline keeps me on track better than a "to do list",  and knowing when they'll be working on what lets me know when I'll have some free time to get my work done. 
Ideally we would review our plans at the end of the day, but that hasn't happened.  The next morning we wipe of the dry erase and start a new plan.  

As far as I can tell this has all the right pieces for a successful routine:  
1)  It takes less than 3 minutes to do 
2) the kids do almost all of it themselves
3) The sheets take up no visible space in our home. 
 Plus, it is is a good practice in  time management (especially for me) and for time sequence and decision making.  
As I said, we are only two weeks in, but so far so good.

                       When we're done we wipe it off, and close the cupboard.  

And, a brief look at what's keeping us busy these days:  


                      Spring Skiing 

   Independent reading!  Such a nice new practice happening with both big kids these days...

     Lots of coloring work by Kale.  
    When he's done he flops on the table and says, "uugh, my hand is ti-red!

    Money games, learning to subtract by counting up, making change...

    Picture Sudoku

   Lots of silliness

    Juniper has been setting up elaborate scenes with anything she can find...clay and tiny animals, Playmobil figures, molding wax, paper....She sets up a scene then plays for hours with different voices and accents for each of the characters.  

              Playmo curling match, by Juniper.  If you haven't ever seen a curling match, Google it.                         Her set up is crazy accurate (minus the red robot).  

                      Patterns using yummy manipulatives 

    Lots of history reading, coloring, and crafts 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Seasonal Table

With each season we spruce up our seasonal table with more appropriate seasonal findings.  As each season ends the pieces from nature get tossed back outside (usually flung right out those windows), while hand made items or special treasures get stored in the drawers below to be used for the next season.  Someday maybe we'll organize the drawers, but for now its almost like a treasure hunt, digging through the drawers to find the favorites from previous years to be added to the new artwork and bits of outside brought in.

Over the years the table itself has changed and the corner has been rearranged to suit the space and the height of the kids.  Sometimes there are live critters, other times nature games, always things to hold, look at, and explore.  It used to be an artistic endeavor of my own, one that the kids have taken more ownership of.  Eventually I imagine they'll outgrow the current set up and it will take on a more grown-up nature wonders corner, or scientific/naturalists cupboard.
But I hope to always keep a place for seasonal wonders and natural beauty.

      Seasonal tables from years past....

This weekend our seasonal table got a much needed spring up date.  So at least it feels like spring inside.
On the table for spring (so far):
yellow tulip
felted hatching chick and duckling (from a few Easters back)
flower prints from a huge old Wildflowers book found scavenged from a give away box
forced cut branches: tamarack, pear, beech
old Christmas cactus blossoms
found birds nest w/acorns for eggs
magnifying glasses
The huge sheet of plexi-glass is leftover from a copier Wylie took apart.  It holds the pages open nicely, and I'm hoping will inspire some tracing of the flowers with window crayons.

It's a little cluttered, and is sure to become more so as frog's eggs are gathered, along with the spring's first bouquets, sprouting seedlings, colored eggs, and more.  But its the best kind of clutter, particularly when the outside world continues to feel so much like winter.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Bit of Spring

Each spring equinox we celebrate in a tiny way, with candy eggs laid by magical visiting birds, celebrating the return of spring.  This year there were some too silly to pass up little chicks in the nest as well.  Just a bit of spring to hint at what the calender tells us is here, despite the layers of snow and ice outside the window.

   A sweet way to begin a season.

Monday, March 10, 2014

ski weekend

Last weekend a friend and I went away for 4 days skiing the Maine Huts and Trails system.  It was a repeat of last year's adventure, only longer!  I was hoping to find something poetic to say about it, or to tie it into the nature journaling and phenology work we're doing around here....but, I can feel the time slipping away, and wanted to share these photos.  If you live nearby and can figure out how to make it happen, I think you should go.  
It was a wonderful weekend with such good company, amazing strangers to talk with, good food, a bit of sweet knitting, nice weather, and long days of good hard skiing.  Certainly an annual tradition.  

    Lunch break, trail side

   Near-Arctic Explorers

      Lung Wort Lichen

Trip Highlights:

* Bob cat and possibly Fischer tracks
* amazing weather, single digits in the mornings and warming to near 20's.  It was perfect weather for non-stop movement.
* 40+ miles of terrain covered
*Not having to wash dishes or prepare food at all for 4 days.
* Due to a boot/ski malfunction I got to borrow a slipper (to cover my socked foot) that had climbed Mt. Everest 3 times! (can I now say my foot has touched the Mt. Everest summit indirectly?)
*Due to said boot/ski malfunction I now officially need new skis (I'be been long overdue, and now its truly time.)
* Having a companion in complaining for the better part of 15 miles of icy, steep up and down skiing, who skied along with me when we should have clipped out and walked (when I couldn't take off my skis without also taking off my boots due to aforementioned malfunction) and who still had a fabulous time through it all.
* No injuries
* After that first hard day, we had 3 more long ski days on well groomed snow with set tracks, and saw no more than 4 people or so for most our time on the trails.
* Spending 4 days away and coming home feeling renewed by the good company, good exercise, quiet woods and fresh air.  No jet lag and very little unpacking.
*Coming home to a clean, quiet house with dinner already prepared for the evening.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The View From Here

This is a moment for sharing , inspired by SouleMama's "This Moment".  In her words,  "A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember."  To play along go to the SouleMama blog.

                          From a few weeks back...wishing for a little fresh snow this week

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Homeschool Thursday: How to make a song

A collection of far too many photos depicting some schooly and unschooly learning from the past couple of weeks..... 

Last summer a friend and I planned that our families would gather once a month or so throughout the year for our kids to present research projects to a small, familiar group, over dinner.  The request came from her girls who were new to homeschooling, and said they would miss the research projects and presentations they had been doing at their Montessori school.  It hasn't worked out as regularly as we hoped, but Juniper did finish her Blue Jay project a few weeks ago, and was excited, though a bit nervous to share her work with our friends.  

This was her first experience presenting something to a group, and it was so fun to get to see her in that role.  She was clear and loud in her presentation, and remembered to look at the audience as she presented the information.  The other kids were patient and respectful, and asked questions about blue jays at the end. 
Kale was not to be left out.  He brought along his favorite book, a small collection of jokes and limericks (which he has memorized) and "read" through the book with great animation and appropriate timing.  It was a hoot.  He repeated his performance the following week on stage in front of our homeschool group (of about 40 people) during a potluck/coffee house.  He's already planning his presentation for the next one; either a group collaboration of his second favorite book, "Borrowed Black", or a solo performance of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" from Frozen.  (Our kids are crazy about the music from this film).   
We'll definitely be continuing with this tradition of presenting formal projects and may even branch out and include other friends and relatives to get more practice at public speaking. 

We continue to work regularly with RightStart Math.  I have liked this program from the beginning, and is the only curriculum we have stuck to throughout the years. (am I starting to sound like a commercial?  I swear I'm receiving no sponsorship--but maybe I should look into it!)  Kale is working on very early visual math, recognizing groups of 5 and 5+ numbers--when he wants to.  I would never push school work with kids this young.  For older kids RightStart introduces new concepts, but continues to emphasize practice of older skills as well.  So, while she's working on multiplication some days, she's also still building and adding 4 digit numbers in her head and on the abacus.  The other day I realized she had never done any graphing, so we took a 1/2 hour in the morning to graph all the measurements Kale was busy taking around the house (he's really into the tape measure right now).  She still wanted to do more, so we moved onto pie charts and line graphs.  When it was time to go to piano she cried because she hadn't had time to finish her line graph.  I guess we'll be doing more of that soon, and maybe we can figure out how to incorporate graphs into her next research project.   

In history we are slowly working through Story of the World, Ancient Times.  Kale loves the coloring activities.  Here he is in a tiger mask from ancient India.  We are also using history to introduce some geography lessons.  We keep the atlas and globe handy, and start at Maine when reading about any other country, and travel by finger over to that country, while naming the continents on the way.  
Kale isn't so interested in this, but Juniper enjoys it.  

As I've mentioned before, "school" work takes up only a small part of about 4 days each week.  Otherwise there's all kinds of good stuff going on without me.  Last week Juniper decided to put together an activity book as a gift for a friend.  It includes a coloring/cutting page, learn to draw pages, and this page on "How to make a Song".  The book required more writing than I had asked her to do in the past week, and she did it all on her own accord, asking only for spelling advice.  I love it.  

Wylie picked up on her enthusiasm, and got right to work on his own paper work, a DIY inspired project in which Juniper could complete certain tasks to earn her "bookmaking badge".  He sewed the badge himself with some scrap felt.  

Another day involved disassembling a remote control car and mounting his iPod to the top to take videos as it drove.  Pretty fun.  (Don't worry Mimi, the car still works fine--even better depending on who you ask).  

This guy, who I call Hank, was an out of the blue gift I couldn't resist.  Some friends had received this puzzle for a Christmas gift, and when we played with it at their house I knew I had to order one for another little friend whose birthday was approaching--and get another one for ourselves.  We ordered him on Amazon, but I think some toy stores carry him too.  He comes with a great booklet that tells about all his parts, and he can completely disassemble/reassemble.  Our friends have a brain model too.  Also super cool.  We haven't done a formal Anatomy study since Wylie was very small, but Juniper took a class with our homeschool group recently. Hank however, has inspired a few "know your body" videos (by Wylie and Juni) and we are all learning a lot from just hanging around with him.  

What day is complete without a bit of Hula?

The dramatic play around here has been non-stop and over the top ridiculous.  Juniper and Kale spend half the day in their underwear pretending to be "pinchampeez" (as Kale calls it).  Then they are cannibal kings (don't ask), followed orphans, veterinarians, and some game that involves walking in the snow in their socks.

Playmobil guys continue to be a staple in most play.  I love them because they are so willing to be a part of any game, be it Jenga blocks built into a tree fort, parachuting with handkerchiefs, a skate/surf club with shape sorter blocks or sailing in the bath tub.  These little guys are so versatile and cooperative.  And they always have a smile on their faces.

This was Juniper and Kale's handiwork.  

If this doesn't make you sing, I don't know what will.