Friday, October 1, 2010

Fun times

A group of local home educating moms have been getting our daughters together for the past couple years to have a book club. A mom and daughter pick a book, all the girls read it, and then they meet to talk about the book, do a craft or activity inspired by it, and then just enjoy being together.

It has been a great experience. We have read some interesting books. My daughter has made new friends. I enjoy sitting down for tea with a group of moms and talking about our take on the book.

One of the best parts though has been watching the whole group of children play together after the book discussion is done. Yesterday, they dove into a particularly well stocked bin of dress-up clothes and once they were all decked out, they went for a walk. This was all the book club girls who are from seven to twelve years old, plus some little sisters as young as three or four. They were wearing a marvellous combination of princess outfits, pioneer garb and odd capes and hats. They wandered around the block for about half an hour, on a gorgeous fall afternoon, and had so much fun doing it.

I am very grateful that my daughter can have the freedom to really act her age with a bunch of friends. Most eleven year olds are too cool to pull out the dress up stuff anymore, much as they might want to. These girls all delighted in helping each other pick the right outfit, and came back giggling about the funny looks and comments they got while they were out. The little ones were part of the fun, not just tolerated, but included.

The goal of book club yesterday was to share a book. The extra stuff that came along, serendipitously, was nearly as good, like a great meal followed by the best dessert.

Monday, September 27, 2010


My hobby of the past several years has been knitting, which led me further into fibrey pursuits when my husband bought me a bargain spinning wheel at a garage sale. (I wonder if he sometimes thinks he should have just kept driving. It's become a bit of an obsession.) I have two spinning wheels, a variety of spindles and more wool than you might think possible.

I never really intended to make wool and spinning part of our home education, but inevitably the interests we pursue lead to new discoveries. I did not know that at one time exporting Merino sheep from Spain was punishable by death. I did not know that the linen sails of Columbus' ships were made from thread spun on hand spindles, since spinning wheels had not been invented at that time. I had a vague understanding of the central role of textile manufacturing in the industrial revolution, but I did not know that the precursor to computer technology was weaving looms that could be set up to create complex patterns.

I am not saying that fibre arts is the best foundation for home education, even though I could make a pretty good case for it. (Without spinning and weaving we'd all be wearing leather or naked. I think that alone establishes spinning as an essential of civilization.) What I found out through learning about wool, linen and cotton is paralleled in any other area of interest. Whether it's model aircraft, or photography, or rock hunting, or woodworking, there are rabbit trails to follow that might lead to many other discoveries in history, geography, science, language or the arts. When we integrate our interests into our children's learning, we expand the possibilities.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Building Thinking Skills

Some of the more important things we teach in home education are implicit in multiple curriculum areas, but rarely defined as goals in themselves. Logical reasoning is one of those things that is hard to focus on by itself, but is essential to proceed in truly understanding every subject.

At the AHEA convention in the spring, I found a workbook designed to develop those sorts of skills. It's Building Thinking Skills, by Sandra Parks and Howard Black, published by The Critical Thinking Company. It has sections on similarities and differences, sequences, classifications and analogies, and deals with each area both figurally by using shapes and verbally.

Many of the exercises are similar to brain teaser puzzles that you might see in children's magazines. They build steadily in difficulty and challenge. My daughter likes working in this book and often completes four or five pages in a day.

There are six levels in the series, Beginning, Primary, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 Figural, and Level 3 Verbal. Hannah is doing Level 2 which is labelled as grade 4-6, so I assume Beginning would be a "preschool" level (preschool is such a funny term for home educators to use!), Primary is likely suitable for grade 1, Level 2 for grades 2 to 3, and the level 3 books are likely for grades 7 to 9.

I tend to assign Hannah pages from this book when I can't work directly with her, or when we're either done early or hitting some sort of roadblock in another area. It almost seems to wake her brain up to sit down and go through a couple pages of this book.

I bought my copy from SMARTS, and I think it's also available from Canadian Home Education Resources.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

New Ideas

I sometimes feel a bit sorry for my youngest because I know I was more creative in my approach to learning when her siblings were younger and I was too. We are currently very book based in her learning. reading many good books, and I know she is learning. It's a reminder to me that the best way to home school is the way that works for your family at the time. It changes, and it should.

Today we did incorporate a creative approach to one of the subjects that isn't fun for my daughter. She really does not enjoy writing assignments, which is fairly normal for children her age. For a more fun approach to a typical brainstorming exercise, we used a set of alphabet stamps and notebooks with blank pages. I asked her to pick a topic word and stamp it at the top of the page. Then she thought of other words to describe it, and stamped them all over the page. Somehow using stamps to put the words on paper made it less of a chore and more like a game. Today's topic was one of our dogs. Tomorrow, she plans to create a page about the cat.

This likely isn't something we'll do all year long, but I can see being consistent with it for the next several weeks and then pulling it out again if there's a day that Hannah needs to do some independent work, or if something happens that might be fun to record in this way, or if we just hit the doldrums and need to spice things up again.

Routines are marvelous, but stepping a little outside them makes them even better.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Not Back to School in the Media

Last weekend, the Globe and Mail printed an article about unschooling, a variety of home education based more on the child's intersts and curiousity than on any lesson plan or curriculum choice by parents. Unschoolers help their kids learn when the kids ask to know about something, they provide good resources and experiences, but they don't have lesson time or phonics programs. It's been around since the 1960's, and it works. It's always been the less-travelled path of home education. If you're nterested in the article, here's a link:

It's not so much the article itself that I found interesting. After all the first book I ever read on the topic of home education was Teach Your Own by John Holt. It was far more interesting to read the comments. Interesting and annoying, because so many commenters were focussed on the same things that we have been asked for 20 years. I guess I don't encounter the criticisms anymore, so to read that home educated children will end up on welfare or stuck in dead end jobs, that they are socially inept or overly sheltered, that they won't know how to cope with college was a huge surprise to me.

I have my own success stories to point to, our children who are doing very well in their school and work. I knew that we would be trailblazers, but I didn't think it would take this long to establish the optiojn of home education as good for children and good for families.

Of course there were other comments too, from families with very positive experiences, who are speaking out in favour of educational choice. Their comments were a vivid contrast to the negative ones. All in all, the article plus the comments woke me up again to the need for all home educators to be proud of what we do, and to speak up clearly and often about the good things we are seeing. I am glad to have my daughter home, I am glad to have spent my children's early years with them. It has been good.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tine to catch up

It's funny how the summer goes along and then one day you realize that it's the middle of August and time to figure things out for fall. I've had a rather rotten summer, but it's getting better and I am beginning to look forward to starting up all the fall activities again.

I had quite low expectations last fall about what we would achieve and we exceeded them so I count the year as a success even though we probably completed less academic work than ever before. I knew that I would be rebuilding stamina from my heart attack for most of the year. Added to that were some extended family issues that called for extra travel to Saskatchewan. Even with those interruptions, Hannah completed all of her math program and reached new levels of understanding. We read many good books. She pushed herself to new levels in swimming and gymnastics. And anything we didn't get to last year, we'll catch up on this year.

Clearly, blogging regularly has been a challenge, but I'm working on it. Tomorrow I hope to go shopping for the curriculum extras I want for the year. I promise to blog again once I've got them!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Seeking support

It's been a homeschoolery week for me. Tuesdays I take Hannah to a park to play with other home schoolers, and I have tea with the moms (one mom brings her kettle, tea bags and mugs every week so we can have tea!) in the heated shelter. Wednesday night, I went to the monthly coffee get-together at a local coffee shop. And tomorrow I'm off to one day of the Alberta Home Education Association annual convention in Red Deer.

All of this made me think about how much we all need each other. Home education is in many ways a very solitary occupation. It's a mom in her kitchen with her children working through yet another day of math and spelling and reading and science. And if in any way it's going badly, she is all alone with a sense of discouragement and all alone in working out a way to make it better.

Getting together with other people on the same journey helps. We can see that we are not alone. We can see that our children are much like other children. Sometimes we can see that ours are ahead in some way, even if they are also behind in others! We hear the same concerns and challenges happening in other homes. Face it, every child complains about his math!

I often feel at this stage of home education that I don't so much need to support. I am in the position of looking to our older children's successes to empower myself for the days I don't find much joy in the moment. I know there are ups and downs and that the whole process is worthwhile. Even so, I need to get my shoes and get out to some kind of get-together for the warmth and friendship I find there. I am very grateful for the other moms who show up and I am trying to be more steadily committed to showing up myself, just because we all gain from the sharing.