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If we can, we have Fun Friday for school, and cram everything into Monday through Thursday.  After missing it for two weeks, Fun Friday is back.  Hurray!

First, the boys drew math discovery.  We worked from a really great book, How Math Works, and played around with multiplication and division tricks.  This was mainly for Encyclopedia’s benefit.  For Cool Guy, we made a book of animal permutations, or as he says “I get to customize my own animals.”  We colored 8 pages of cartoonish animals that were neatly divided into thirds horizontally.  Then we made them into a flip book, cut along the cut lines and voila, customized animals, as in bear head, pterodactyl body, and snake bottom.  Cute.  Cool Guy really liked it.  The math-y part was figuring out how many different animals we could make which was 8 x 8 x 8, though I could not have figured that out myself.

Next, we worked on 4-H projects.  Cool Guy and I began working to teach Scamp how to shake.  He is a very, very smart dog, and I am sure that if we are consistent in doing this daily, he will shake on command after a month of work.  Encyclopedia, whose project is cooking, has chosen to do the germs-in-the-kitchen activity.  Lovely.  After calling the county extension office to inquire about Glo-Germ, something we rub on our hands or the kitchen counter to see how germy it is, I found that we’ll have to postpone this until the agent locates the stuff.  Oooo, I can’t wait.  Not.

The third drawing was bird of the day, which we get on enature.com.  

Number 4 was handicrafts, so we decided to extend our whittling that we had been doing on bars of soap to the next level: making spears out of sticks.  It gave a true purpose to whittling for my two savages and was a nice way to spend time together outside.

And that was it for the day.  It always surprises me how little we actually do on Fun Friday, but then, we did spend quite a bit of time doing each thing, except for the bird.  And we have LOTS of breaks, and today lots of playing outside.  And that is good, too.

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This is our “between terms” week.  This is the week when we all heave a big sigh (had we really been going that hard?) and gather ourselves together again.

For Cool Guy, this means a little reading each day and then play, play, play.  For me, it means cleaning out and reorganizing the classroom.  More on that in a future post with after pictures (I forgot to take before ones).

For Encyclopedia, it means final exams.  This is a first for him, but then he’s in 5th grade and has only been at home for school for a couple of months now.  After I had typed up a week’s worth of finals, I really expected an evening of fireworks when I handed him the sheet of assignments.  So I was surprised when he look it over and was excited about the whole thing!  The enthusiasm at mid-week hasn’t waned, although he struggles some with doing best work  in regards to neatness and attention to details like spelling and punctuation.  But that is part of the purpose of these exams.  There need to be Big Occasions to really bring out one’s Best Work, and though, of course, I’d like to see Best Work always, at least Encyclopedia is having a taste of it and might get to like it.

Without further delay, here are Encyclopedia’s finals:

History: Write the story of Jamestown from the point of view of either John Smith, Pocahontas, or Powhatan.

Keyboarding: timed test

Geography: Write a report on the Netherlands, paying particular attention to having one main idea per paragraph.  This is based on research done during the twelve weeks.

Ancient History: Do a Social-Studies-Fair-type project on the Greek Gods and Heroes.

Science: Pick 4 birds we learned about and write a paragraph about each.  Print out and color coloring sheets on these birds.

Math: Do one long division worksheet and one column addition sheet perfectly, which means checking answers.

English: Do a book report on one pleasure reading book read during the term.

The Greek Gods project should take up a good chunk of the week.  Planning long-term projects, or rather budgeting sufficient time and seeing them through, is a skill that Encyclopedia really struggles with, and though his enthusiasm is overflowing for his project, his will to work is not as evident.  He has a deadline of Saturday, so we’ll see what the week brings.

He has decided to create a Greek Gods trading card game, with each having certain powers and stats, attack points, defense points, yadda, yadda.  If you have boys this age, you’re familiar with the whole thing.  I think it’s brilliant and have offered my laminating services.  I really hope that he pulls it off.

Since we went to the library last night to pick up the second Percy Jackson for me to read, and he finally got his hands on the newly released Calvin and Hobbes, I will be surprised if he does anything else besides memorize that book.  But, part of learning is making mistakes.  My goal is to keep from nagging and let him figure out for himself how to mix work and fun.

I hope everyone is having a great week so far!  Are you feeling a little springness in the air?

This is what the sports announcers say about referees being very strict with the rules, or, not “just letting them play.”  I think I am guilty of making ticky-tack calls myself, and I wonder just how ticky-tack I should be.

To answer that question, I need to determine exactly what I hope to accomplish in our homeschool.  Do I want the boys to develop a love of learning?  Or do I want them to become good students?  Duh.  Of course every mother would want love of learning, right? Are the two mutually exclusive?  I don’t think so, but I sometimes feel that they are.  I really think that you need both of them, but I also think that too much empahsis on the student part can squash the learner part.  However, swinging the other way with emphasis on learning and none on student-ing is no good either.   What I mean is that sure, I could devour books left and right, read everything I can find on a subject, but that doesn’t make me do the best I can on what I’m interested.  Reading, after all, is a  passive pursuit, and I think it takes some kind of action generated by the learner to really achieve Deep Learning.  (I think I’ll keep that phrase – I like it.)  I did that once on WWI and WWII.  I read everything out there that I could find and watched every movie.  But if I had gone beyond that, if I had done a paper or a project on it, then I would have been forced to synchronize some of the material I had read.  I may have drawn some conclusions that would not have occurred to me before I started writing. 

Now, my boys are elementary age, and I am not expecting theses on their subjects, but I consider my job to be to prepare them TO BE ABLE to do this in the future.  If my sons cannot read, then they cannot explore through reading; they are limited to audio and video.  If they cannot write, and I’m talking about both the physical act and also word usage,  then even though they may have a lot up in their heads, they cannot convey that information except orally.  If they cannot order their thoughts, then their writing means nothing.

Right now, they are learning these skills, which means practicing them.  And as Vince Lombardi once said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.”  Here comes ticky-tack.

I think the skill that a teacher must develop  being ticky-tack without being punitive, making the student desire mastery of the skill.  If anyone has a magic formula for this, I’d love to know it!  My goal is to foster a love of learning while learning to be a good student, but I fall short of my goal more than I would like.  Encyclopedia has discovered the Percy Jackson books at the same time he is studying Greek myths for his schoolwork.  It is so fun and so neat when pieces of information from different sources converge and fit in together.  Those are joyful learning moments, and he is experiencing one of those right now, but still, there is handwriting to practice, grammar to work on (a difficult area for him), math to keep practicing.  I think that these skills need to be consistently worked on, day in and day out, for one to become a good student.  And unless he practices them regularly, they will not become second nature.  Think about how hard it would be to type if you had to think about every key every time you had to strike it.  It would get in the way of going beyond the passive phase of learning. 

For now, I’m going to be ticky-tack about some things a lot of the time.  I also think that there are times to let up and let it go and let sheer joy of knowledge-gathering take place.  I think it’s all about balance, and this wisdom comes with experience.

Today is Fun Friday at our house!  I got this idea from Angie at The One Thing.  Thanks Angie!  On Fridays, we do a little bit of math and reading, and then we do Fun Friday.  I have 40 numbered poker chips in a bag and 40 different ideas of things to do, and we draw and see what the day will bring.  Half the fun is the anticipation.

Last week, we did a spelling bee, geography bee, and learned how to whittle.  Today’s Fun Friday has just begun with a movie.  We are watching Shiloh, eating popcorn and having Cokes, all at 10 am.  Whee! 

Here is a list of some of the things we do on Fun Fridays.  Again, big thanks to Angie for the general idea plus some of the activities.

  • Nature walk
  • Science discovery
  • Board game
  • Puzzle
  • Extra read-aloud
  • Poetry
  • Picture study
  • Art
  • Do a Craft
  • Geography project
  • Math discovery
  • Book on tape
  • Computer games
  • National Geographic Geography Bee
  • Bible art
  • Word of the day
  • Spelling Bee
  • Vocabulary quiz
  • Bird of the day
  • Astronomy
  • Weather watch
  • Current events
  • Baking
  • Tea time
  • Creative Writing
  • Science experiments
  • THINK project
  • Watch DVD
  • Field trip
  • Handicraft
  • Juggling
  • Ping pong
  • Enter a contest
  • Identify and classify rocks
  • Bowling
  • 4-H project
  • Trip to library

It’s tough having the responsibility of one’s own child’s education solely on one’s own shoulders.  There are just so many ways to blow it.  On the one hand, I want my kids to fall in love with learning: teach basic skills and let them take it from there.  On the other hand, I’ve been there, done that, and one kid became an expert on Disney tween sit-coms and learned snotty attitude and not much else.

Something in me just can’t let my son’s entire golden childhood be spent staring at Disney Channel.   The more worried I got, the less serene I was about the whole “do whatever you want with your time” thing.  My increasing dislike of the situation was affecting things around here.  I kept urging BALANCE and was politely ignored.

So we made some changes.  There is more balance and I hope that there is plenty of quality, appealing other stuff to do.

And yet…….

Encyclopedia took off with our history book a couple weeks ago.  I had to hunt it down in his room to use it.  Great, right?  Well, yes and no.  The book is neat, tells a great story with style, is above his usual reading level, and is 600 pages long.  What could be the problem?  The problem is that Encyclopedia devours the history book at the expense of everything else.  And now I have to decide whether this is OK.  Is it?  I honestly don’t know.  On the one hand, why not?  Why not let a kid lose himself in a terrific history book?  What a great benefit of homeschooling!  On the other hand, there is math, writing (both penmanship and usage), and a few other subjects that need some attention.  Plus, some fresh air outdoor and some exercise would be good, too.

How am I going to screw things up here?  By being too loose or by being too strict?  Like I said, it’s tough.  I have more that I would like to add regarding this, but I’ll save it for a future post.

Reading a draft that I will soon be posting on a new homeschooling page here, caused me to ponder.  In that draft I mentioned that I hated science in school.  And I began to wonder “why is that?”  Did I have mean teachers?  No, I’d say the English teachers were on the whole a lot more crotchety, and yet I loved English.  Was it that it didn’t come as effortlessly to me?  Perhaps, but then neither have other subjects which I’ve dug into, like putting out a decent blog page.

And then the aha moment came.  It’s because of all those stupid experiments that we had to do about stuff that I could have cared less about.  If I don’t care about, say, whether a solid is going to displace water from the get-go, then doing an experiment on it is just wasted time, wasted effort, and a real turn-off. And really, I already know without learning in school that if I fill up the pot first and then put in the potatoes, some water will overflow.  So I know this already.  And what is the obsession with disecting worms and frogs?  Did anyone really get anything out of that?  Maybe someone did, but I think forcing disection on the unwilling is silly.

The now-teacher in me tells the then-student in me that if I don’t care, that is my problem and to suck it up, and just do the experiment.  Which is exactly what I did, through gritted teeth, with minimum effort, and no learning resulting from the process.  And so, I hated science.

Whose problem is this?  Is it the student’s or the teacher’s?  I guess that depends.  In regular school, it is the student’s, and by extension, his or her parents’.  At homeschool, the problem of detesting science could belong to either, but if a teacher wants love of science to blossom, she’d better assume the burden.  Is the student not interested because his/her curiosity has not adequately been piqued?  Or is this subject just not something to tackle at this time?  I think it could be a little of each.

So, how to handle this at home?  I’m sure that in a regular school situation, the student just has to find a way to get interested or else be prepared to trudge through the required work with much resentment.  However, as long as I’m taking the time and trouble to homeschool, I’d like science to be more rewarding that what I had. 

The polar opposite of regular school is unschooling, and though the idea appeals to me, it proved to be hard to do in our family.  Cool Guy flits from one idea to the next lightning quick and will not work independently. He would express an interest in something, and then I would scurry around trying to catch the moment, get what we need, and allow him to dig in.  The moment would pass at just about that time.   For my sanity, I had to get some more order.  This year, we are studying specific things: insects, birds, and plants.  If something else creeps in, great, but we are scheduling time to look at these three things.   And though I like our science program, my life experience has taught me that they’d better like it, or it’s a waste of time and money.  And worse, they could end up hating science.

You see, I really did like science.  I was a huge rock collector.  My grandfathers were miners, and one of them used to take me out to the chat piles to find rock samples. Chat pile (technical note: “chat” is the tailings from lead and zinc mining.  Our piles were MOUNTAINS!)  I had a huge and wonderful collection that I then set about identifying and classifying, and this was all on my own, no help, no  guidance, no experiments to perform or lab sheets to fill out, or papers to do, or hoops to jump through.  I just learned about rocks because it was neat.  I had a grandparent who introduced me to the possibility out there, and I took off with it.

I think in Paradise, all learning would be like that, but unfortunately, my home is not Paradise.  So I’m going to try for something a little less than perfect.  I’m going to expose, just like my grandfather did to me, and I’m going to make sure that the opportunities exist, but if resentment and loathing begin to creep in, I’m not going to keep pushing, pushing, pushing.  Something will have to change: either my approach to the material or else a change entirely.   And if my kids grow up and don’t understand the principals behind DNA but they do love science, then I think we’ll have done OK. 

We are studying birds right now, and if they hated it, I’d like to think that I would adjust some.  Actually, they were resistent at first to the schooly parts.  I had set up bird feeders before we started the bird study, and set out the binoculars already, and we made some feeders together and then we watched and identified, and that was fun.  Then I started reading the book, and they were a little resistent, but the chapters are short, and Burgess’s charm won out in the end.  The science kit that I have is really fun and interesting and doesn’t have long involved experiments.  One activity that the boys didn’t really take to was using the bird identification sheets to identify the birds.  I think that’s because they already knew the birds at our feeders and saw filling out a sheet as needless work.  I agree.  Let’s just see them, hear them, enjoy then, know them, study them as our interest holds.

My working plan-in-progress for science, then, is not completely child-led and not completely top-down.  The child can run with things or not, but I am not going to force feed hours upon hours of content.  We will dabble.  The dabbling is mom-led and the kiddos can take it from there.

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"People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway. Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway." - Blessed Mother Teresa