Tag Archives: home schooling

Math Forks in the Road

Mushroom is rapidly nearing the end of Miquon.  I predict he’ll be finished with Purple within the month and that’s if we draw it out.  BalletBoy has recently finished Math Mammoth 3.  In the meantime, we’ve been trying out Beast Academy.  BalletBoy likes the graphic novel textbook, but the workbook isn’t right for him.  Everything in it is either too easy or too hard.  I haven’t felt like he’s gotten a lot out of it, so I don’t think he’ll be continuing other than to read the textbook for fun.  If you’re not familiar with Beast Academy, Tinderbox has an excellent review of it here.  Essentially, through a graphic novel about monsters, it introduces math in a very conceptual way and the more difficult practice problems often practically invite frustration.  They want you to try and fail and try again and have an epiphany.  Shockingly, it has been working for Mushroom, which is re-emphasizing the realization I’ve been having lately that he is actually pretty good at conceptual math thinking, even if his calculation skills lag behind.

The other day, we were covering the triangle inequality in Beast Academy and Mushroom wasn’t getting it, so I pulled out our constant friends the Cuisenaire rods.  See how the triangle on the left works because the sum of the two shorter sides are longer than the long side?  But the triangle on the right can never work.

photo (98)

For a split second, when I didn’t see this activity on Education Unboxed to link it, I thought I had made up a new use for the rods, but nah, I found it somewhere else.  Sometimes I think the rods are pure magic.  They really can be used to teach nearly any math.

What’s next for math at the Rowhouse?  I don’t totally know.  Mushroom will continue Beast Academy, but he needs the ability to switch away when he gets frustrated.  The spiral, jumpy, non-threatening nature of Miquon worked so well for him that we have to find a way to recreate some part of it.  We have several books like this one which should help us use the rods, but we need something else.  I know that Singapore, Math Mammoth and MEP aren’t right for him and it seems silly to begin Right Start only to have it run out on us soon thereafter.  What we do is still a bit up in the air.  For BalletBoy, after a lot of discussion between him and myself, we’ve decided he needs more practice with third grade concepts so he’s going to do MEP 3b, which will be a lot of review and a few new things, alongside the Singapore Challenging Word Problems 3, which we’ve done a little in, but not much.

I feel very unsure about math right now and am worried we’re playing hopscotch with programs a little too much.  I’m trying to be mindful of the need to stick with a sequence to help us keep gaps at bay.  On the other hand, I feel like when we do stick too closely with a single program, both boys have trouble honing their math thinking, not to mention that they get bored and frustrated.  It’s definitely a time of some self-doubt here.

Gentle First Grade Grammar

I’m still trying to decide how much grammar we’ll do next year and whether there’s even a chance that any of it will be formal.  For first grade, we’ve just kept it really simple with the idea that reading and listening to books, as well as conversing together, was enough of a beginning for younger kids.  As we write, we’ve been looking at punctuation, capitalization and a few other things, but not in any systematic way yet.  In the last month or so, we’ve been doing a little more with it by introducing nouns, verbs and adjectives.  Below are some of the resources we’ve used.  In addition to these, we’ve also simply had writing assignments to “collect” various parts of speech and played some games trying to spot different types.

Mad Libs
Using Mad Libs for grammar is hardly a new idea.  Is there anyone who doesn’t do this?  Still, it’s fun and leads to lots of giggles.  I like how good it is at helping the kids begin learning to brainstorm for new words.  You can find Mad Libs to do online several places, such as these where you click the words for younger kids and these or these where you type in words you want.

Brian Cleary’s Picture Book Series
This series on parts of speech is full of cutesy rhymes and cartoonish doodles of monsters.  They’re pretty short and simple.  They don’t go into any depth, but they have a nice vocabulary and were well enjoyed by Mushroom and BalletBoy.  Plus, they cover many topics, such as synonyms, prepositions, and pronouns.

Ruth Heller’s Picture Book Series
This lovely picture book series is slightly longer than the Brian Cleary books, with a richer vocabulary as well.  The colorful images are crowded with detail.  The text also goes into some detail about the types of nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs.  Mostly, however, these are just creative lists with some clever rhymes.

Board Books!
The other great resource for simple parts of speech is books intended for use by very young children.  So, if you still have some around, dig out the board books.  After all, what’s in a people house?  Nouns!  What are yummy and yucky?  Antonyms!  By far our best find in this regard has been the beautiful picture book Do! by Gita Wolf.  This book, from artists of the Warli tribe in India has just one simple verb on each page along with a clean white on brown stick figure image illustrating it.  We were entranced.

Schoolhouse Rock: Grammar Rock
Ah, good old Schoolhouse Rock.  These are old, but still good.  You can find most of them online these days.  Here’s nouns, adverbs, verbs, conjunctions, pronouns, propositions, and interjections.  Below is Mushroom and BalletBoy’s favorite: adjectives.

Lessons from a Career in Schools

A lot of homeschoolers are former teachers, like myself.  Part of it, I’m sure, is that people with a general interest in education have a heightened interest in their own child’s education.  However, I’m also sure a big part of it is that people who know the school system the best are the most reluctant to put their children in it.  While I think homeschooling has it all over schooling of any sort, I learned a lot of things from schools about teaching that I use all the time in homeschooling.  While I would never say one needs teaching experience to homeschool (despite what many parents seem to think, I believe nearly anyone can do this homeschooling thing if they truly want to), I am glad I have that experience.

First, a little about my teaching career.  My public school career was pretty short lived.  I simply couldn’t hack being a public school teacher.  The bureaucracy, the attitudes, the terrible curricula and the general atmosphere all turned me off.  Some of the experiences I had would make your mind boggle.  The teacher in charge of all the resources for the history department handed me a box of pencils and two boxes of chalk at the start of the year.  When I asked if I came to her to get more chalk when I ran out, she laughed at me and walked away.  All this while her own closet was a treasure trove of supplies.  The department head once gave me the following “formal” evaluation of his observing my class as he passed me in a busy hallway: “Everything you did was a complete waste of time.”  He never spoke to me about it further.  And those weren’t even my worst experiences in many ways.  If I had stayed there, I’m sure I would have learned something about teaching and education, but I’m not sure how much of it would have been helpful in homeschooling.

I learned a lot more about teaching when I went to work at a small Quaker middle school full of excellent, often very individual kids.  The school where I worked was small and I stayed there a long time so I had the opportunity to work with many different kinds of kids, a few of them for three or even four years in a row, which was a special opportunity.  I’ve since learned a lot of new things from homeschooling. However, here’s a few things that will probably always stay with me that I learned from teaching:

* Take the long view. Mushroom and BalletBoy are young, but having taught so many middle schoolers has helped me think in terms of the future.  One day they’ll be 14 and I feel like instead of thinking in terms of the now, it’s best to think in terms of the journey to get there (and beyond).

* Education is all about the process. I feel a little bit like a broken record when I say this because it’s so central to my conception of education and so lacking from our school culture that I say it quite often.  This is certainly something I began to see intuitively when I was younger and heard articulated when I was in grad school, but I don’t think I could have come to understand it so thoroughly if I had not taught in a Quaker school.  The endpoint matters and it’s good to have that long view with it in your vision, but the journey must be the focus of the educator.

* Assessment is essential. I started my career in schools with the same angry feelings about standardized testing that I still harbor today.  I also didn’t believe that grades were an expression of learning in any depth that mattered so I tended to think of assessment as an annoyance at the start of my career.  I’m very glad to have gotten over that sophomoric view.  Real assessment helps structure what you do and affirm your path.  It helps you set goals and move forward.  It helps you and your students know your strengths and weaknesses and work from there.  Without assessment of some kind, we’re at sea without anchoring points to mark that journey that is education.  In our homeschooling, we use portfolios to gather work and reflect on it – not because we have to (we’re lucky to have pretty minimal regulation here) but because it’s important.

* Kids need boundaries. This is one of those lessons I always have to keep learning over and over.  I had to learn it in schools, where I initially wanted to keep things as open-ended as possible and I’ve had to learn it over again in homeschooling where I initially wanted to give the kids more control than they were ready for.  But I’ve seen it in practice especially when I was teaching that the more I sat with a kid, providing that structure, making the work happen, the better the results and the easier it was for the future until finally I could see a student who could work independently and who knew where the lines were.  I don’t think it happens intuitively and I’m glad I at least started to figure that out before I had kids.

* DIY curriculum writing isn’t that hard. I think many homeschoolers have a fear of relying on themselves instead of a curriculum.  Because homeschoolers know all the best resources (seriously, this is the arena where school teachers should take the most notes from homeschoolers), we’re using a lot more purchased curricula than I ever anticipated we would.  Some of that is for structure, but much of it is a lack of need to invent on my part what’s already there.  Still, when I was teaching, I wrote all my own lesson plans and curricula every year.  I planned my own courses and structured them however I pleased.  It can be intimidating and occasionally somewhat time consuming, but it’s not that difficult. While I sometimes chafed at having to do what’s called curriculum mapping when I was a teacher, it’s now a skill I’m glad to have acquired.

In Which I Undertake Something Dumb…

We are embarking on a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  I’m directing it and am in the process of figuring out the casting as well as editing down the script we have so that no one has too many lines.  I am, no doubt, completely and utterly insane.

But, because it’s on my mind, for your use, a post on Shakespearean resources.  I’ve posted about Shakespeare a little before.  Now, a few more things you can use to learn about Shakespeare and specifically The Tempest.

First up, there’s the scripts.  Obviously, you can get the actual text of Shakespeare’s plays most anywhere.  There’s a good chance you already have them in your home.  I have the weighty tome that is The Riverside Shakespeare from my college days.  Of course, if you don’t, there’s always Shakespeare at Project Gutenberg.  Here’s a link where you can see Shakespeare’s works available there.

Shakespeare with Children: Six Scripts For Young PlayersIf you’re working with kids, you might not want the full original versions.  Simply Shakespeare by Jennifer Kroll is a book that includes simple story versions of the plays done as reader’s theater.  For the most part, the language is modernized.  The plays are meant to be done in about 20 minutes.  Stepping things up a little bit, Shakespeare with Children by Elizabeth Weinstein gives slightly longer versions of six of the plays.  These are shortened versions that incorporate mostly Shakespearean language.  This is the version of the plays we’re using, though I’m cutting it down somewhat.  Finally, when I was looking for our script to base our production, I considered both this site and this one.  I thought both looked promising.

Next, picture book versions of the Shakespearean stories are a must.  I think they’re a useful way to introduce the plays all the way up to high school.  For The Tempest, these are the resources we’ve been looking at:

The Tempest retold by Ann Keay Beneduce
The Tempest adapted by Mariana Mayer
Tales from Shakespeare by Marcia Williams
The Tempest by Bruce Coville
Shakespeare for Kids: The Tempest by Lois Burdett
Stories from Shakespeare by E. Nesbit

The Bruce Coville Shakespeare series is especially wonderful.  I have mixed feelings about the children’s illustrations in the Lois Burdett Shakespeare versions.  Plus, the strange poetry she uses to retell the stories isn’t really my style.  However, I know others really like these versions.  Nesbit’s Shakespeare retellings are available at Project Gutenberg here and at Google Books here.

Finally, some resources on Shakespeare’s life are good to have.  We’ve only just begun to explore these, but here are some I’ve found useful.

The Usborne World of Shakespeare by Anna Claybourne
Shakespeare and the Globe by Aliki
Bard of Avon: the Story of William Shakespeare by Diane Stanley

Right now I’m feeling very foolhardy and optimistic about the ability of these kids to do this amazing production.  But ask me again in March if I still think this was a good idea!

Science Week 9: Simple Machines

Welcome to a particularly video-linked heavy edition of our weekly science post.  I decidedly did not want to do science for that day.  Yet somehow it turned out to be a very successful science day.  Go figure.

Simple machines is a topic we had previously done with our co-op last year as part of a larger unit on tools.  Below, you can see Mushroom showing off his ride for “The Screw” on the day we did it.  The kids all made an amusement park for the little plastic figures based on different simple machines then played with them on the various rides.

There were plenty of video resources for simple machines.  First of all, we watched the excellent Bill Nye episode about simple machines.  Next, we tackled the Eureka! episodes from season 2, which dealt with the inclined plane, the leverthe screw and the wheel and the pulley.  As always, those were slightly complicated for the first grade set, but they enjoyed them nonetheless.  Less complicated was the Brainpop Jr. video on simple machines.  Most Brainpop videos are subscription only, but this one is free.

Next, as always, we did something in our journals.  We talked about how machines reduce work, which was very clearly covered in the Eureka! videos.  We looked for examples of simple machines in magazines and newspapers then labeled them.

Then, the real fun began.  We watched several videos of Rube Goldberg machines.  If you go to Youtube and search for “Rube Goldberg” or “Pitagora Suichi” then you’ll find a million of them.  Mushroom and BalletBoy’s favorite is probably this Easter themed one.  We also watched this amazing video from OK Go.  That video also has a TED talk about it, which is an inspiring little thing and fun to watch.  We finished by making our own Rube Goldberg contraption.  I told the kids it had to involve at least three different types of simple machines.  They chose to create something using the wheel, the inclined plane and a pulley.  They knew we were filming this and had already decided it would be their ticket to Youtube fame.  Thus, if you watch the video of their contraption, you’ll hear them screaming, “We’re famous!” when it finally worked.

A Few Good Friends

For most outsiders to the homeschool world, the first question they have about homeschooling deals with what many homeschoolers call “the S word.”  Socialization, that is.  It’s not ever been something that I’ve worried about seriously.  However, now that we’ve been at this for a little while, I’ve started to get a little frustrated by some of the canned responses I see when people talk about that dreaded S word with nervous newcomers and curious outsiders.  The most common response is that there are many opportunities for kids to be with other kids: 4H, scouting, sports, classes, co-ops, churches, recreation centers, and just on the playground or out and about.

That’s true, to a point.  Especially if you live in an urban or suburban area, there’s plenty for kids to sign up for.  I keep paring back our schedule, but at various points in the last year, we’ve had at least a dozen different classes or sports that brought my kids into contact with other kids.  But is that really enough?  Is just being around other kids, even on a regular basis enough?

For me, the answer is no.  I think it’s the quality of the interactions that are the most important.  Neither school nor an active slate of activities necessarily provides a level of quality peer interaction.  At least at school you have a sustained group, which you might not even get in various activities.  By quality I mean I mean developing a friendship and an investment in another person as someone that you care about in your life.  Getting that isn’t necessarily as simple as just signing your kid up for stuff.  Like everything when you’re homeschooling, it usually takes forethought and effort.

When we first began our kindergarten co-op last year, the other three families and I agreed that the highest goal we had was to create a sense of community among the kids and to develop their friendships and ability to be together as a group.  We don’t sit around thinking about that and talking about how to do it.  The nuts and bolts of what we’re learning about and what time we’re meeting and who paid for the tickets to a certain show and so forth get a lot more conversation.  However, we all have an unspoken agreement to think about the group in these terms.  What activities are we doing that allow them to work together?  What are we doing that allows them to share?  Are they getting enough time together to just be kids with each other?  These are the sort of lenses through which we judge our time together.  For us, it has been really organic because we all come from the same sort of assumptions that this sort of socialization – the kind that’s about community and friendships – is the most important thing.

The simple truth is that it takes thinking about free time, especially free play, as time well spent and not time wasted.  Schools have forgotten this as they eliminate recess left and right, that they’re harming kids’ ability to learn to interact and work things out.  Doing things together – sharing a meal, going for a hike, taking a trip, or spending a long lazy day at the park – is time that kids need to build real friendships.  Obviously, some kids, both schooled and homeschooled, are lucky enough to have a neighborhood of friends and opportunities to hang out with them by just running down the street.  But I’ve found that most homeschoolers don’t and even many schooled kids don’t have that these days.  Our friends live all over the place so it takes me believing that it’s worth it to haul the kids across town “just” to play.

Seeing Mushroom and BalletBoy build those friendships and take such joy in their friends warms my heart.  They get giddy about seeing them, even though they spend time with their friends often.  They hug their friends.  They really know them and know their likes and dislikes.  So while it has taken some thinking and effort on our part, I think the dreaded S word is actually a benefit to homeschooling, especially because I trust they’ll have many of their friends for years to come.

Impromptu Co-op Conga Line!

Bayeux Tapestry

I want to get back to blogging some of our lovely history projects and things for the year.  We’re loosely using the second volume of Story of the World. We had an especially good time with the Vikings, but we moved on to the Normans and have gotten into the middle ages properly now.  That meant time for some fake stained glass.

Now that we’re onto William the Conquerer, that rhyme with all the kings of England has been stuck in my head…  “Willy, Willy, Harry, Ste, Harry, Dick, John, Harry Three…”

Anyway, to make our Bayeux Tapestry, we used some heat transfer crayons I had and a scrap of fabric from my fabric bin.  Mushroom colored Edward the Confessor’s funeral as well as the arrival of the comet.  BalletBoy did William sailing across the channel and Harold getting hit in the eye with that arrow.  We enhanced it a little with some fabric markers.  Then, to finish it off, I let the kids pick a special stitch from my sewing machine to sew a border on the top and bottom.  I helped them operate the machine.

By the way, we found excellent resources for the Norman invasion online.  If you don’t already know the BBC Schools site, then it’s always a wealth of information.  We’ve used the Primary History section before, and we really liked all the resources about the Norman invasion and the Anglo-Saxons.  However, nothing topped this video I stumbled across on Youtube.  It’s just…  well, it’s pretty excellent.