Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Parable of the Bat and the Racket

I consider myself to be pretty athletic. I am decent at most sports, although my favorite, by far, is softball. For thirteen years growing up I played competitive fast-pitch softball. That’s lots and lots of hours spent practicing to fine tune specific skills. When I was a freshman in college, a friend of mine tried to teach me how to play tennis. I was terrible! It turns out that swinging a tennis racket and swinging a softball bat are different enough motions that if you try to swing a racket the same as you swing a bat you will fail miserably. And I did. But I was so used to swinging a bat that I could not adjust, and I gave up on tennis.

Since making the decision to homeschool, I’ve realized that I’m up against a similar struggle. This time, however, I am bound and determined to make the adjustment. I am an alumnus of the public school system. Although I don’t feel like I had an awful experience in public school, I think that homeschool has more to offer. But trying to imagine myself homeschooling was like trying to play tennis. At first, when I thought about it, I pictured my kids sitting in little desks in our living room while I stood in front of them and lectured all day. Thankfully, after a little research, I discovered that homeschoolers swing the racket a little differently. The trick is to learn how, without letting my public school mind set get in the way.

Recently I attended a homeschooling conference. The instructor talked a little bit about paradigms. He defined a paradigm as, “A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them.” The phrase, “a way of viewing reality” really stands out to me as a reminder that there are many different realities depending on your perspective or your experience. Sometimes when I am trying to learn new things I dig myself a hole because I only try to do it one way—the way I know. By shifting my paradigm a little, I’m learning that an education doesn’t have to be the same 8:00-3:00, lectures, quizzes, and one-subject-at-a-time routine I grew up with.

When I first started researching about homeschooling, my favorite thing to do was to read about the creative ways people came up with to encourage their kids to learn. An experience that’s coming to mind is a woman whose son was interested in squid. She ran with it. They read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, they visited an aquarium, they ate squid at a restaurant, they dissected a squid, etc. Tons of learning going on there, and her son was all over it because he was interested. Stories like this fascinate me, because they are so foreign to the experiences I had in school. I want to learn how to create an environment like that for my kids. But in order to do that I have to teach my mind to put down the bat and pick up the racket, so to speak. And that’s going to take some effort.

And who knows, if this homeschooling thing works out, maybe I’ll give tennis another shot. :)

Rainy Day

So what do you get when you combine a rainy day and a house full of sick kids? Surprisingly enough, an interest in coloring books. Now I know that may seem like a no-brainer given the circumstances, but my boys have NEVER been interested in coloring books. However, this week they discovered them on the shelf and suddenly they were all the rage. They were Dover coloring books that my mom had given me. (Rainbow Resources has a large selection of these "educational" coloring books.)

I thought we would never use them, but I put them on the shelf anyway. Engineer, who is also an avid birder, discovered The Book of State Birds and Flowers. Thinker grabbed The Book of Sailing Ships. Soon the copy machine was humming (there are always more than one kid who want the same picture) and the crayons were spilled everywhere.

Thinker was too sick to stay interested for long, but Engineer kept copying and coloring page after page. With each new page came interesting facts and questions. "Mom, did you know two states have a chicken for the state bird?" "Mom, why is the Baltimore Oriel named after the city of Baltimore when it must live other places too?" "Mom, look at the coloring on a thrush!" By dinnertime he had pretty well completed a "unit study" on state birds and flowers! It's amazing to me what kids will learn when information is available to them and when they have the time to follow an interest. Even if that is nothing more than coloring books on a rainy day.

B Day

Today was "B" Day at my friend Suzy's house. We colored pictures of school buses, sang wheels on the bus, played with balloons, pointed out that there were two babies in the room, made bumblebees out of small balloons and those fuzzy tube things (what are they called?), blew bubbles, and took bites of bread and butter for our snack.

We had a great time! My favorite was the balloon bumblebee. I think it was Scientist's favorite too, because he carried it around with him everywhere he went. It's always fun to see the creative ideas that other people come up with.

Next week it will be my turn again for "C". Any ideas?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Day: Airplanes

A little while ago, I stumbled upon this book called "The Absolute Best Play Days" by Pamela Waterman. In it, it has 52 different themes for activites you can do with kids. Each theme includes craft suggestions, indoor and outdoor activites, snacks, books, movies, music, and games; that all revolve around the specific theme. It gives you ideas for how to adapt theme activies to kids ages 2-7. And lots of the materials it calls for are things you have already in your home. Needless to say, I was super excited about this book and have been waiting and waiting to try it out.

Today was the day. Scientist's friend and my friend Suzy (his mom) were coming over to play today, and I thought it was time to pull out the book. Suzy and I have been trying to do some very minimal teaching of letters to the kids (Scientist already knows A-J but we decided to start back at the beginning) and we'd switch off every other week and come up with activities based on letters. So, for example, today was my day, the letter was A, so I pulled out this book and decided to do airplanes. We had so much fun!

First we colored an airplane puzzle. I made this puzzle myself. I went online and typed "free airplane coloring page" into a Google search. When I found one I liked, I copied and pasted it into a word document. Then using WordArt I made the word Airplane with the A's in red, and the big and little A at the bottom. Then printed. I drew in puzzle lines. Then let Scientist color it before I cut it out. I think he might still be a little too young for paper puzzles though, because, he did like coloring the puzzle, but as soon as we cut it out, instead of wanting to put it together, he just wanted to rip the paper. But that's ok, we'll try again some other day.

The next thing we did was decorate paper airplanes with Halloween stickers. I had pre-made the airplanes (well, ok, Aaron pre-made the airplanes, and was utterly apalled that I did not have the knowledge of how to build one. What a horrible childhood I must have had!) because I didn't think two year olds would be too interested in the folding part. Also, on the top of the airplanes I taped a piece of a straw. Once the airplanes were decorated, we threaded a piece of crochet thread (but yarn, or any other kind of string would probably work just as well) through the straw piece and taped it up so that it went across the room, with one side as high as Scientist could reach standing on a stool and the other side pretty low to the ground.

Scientist would stand on the stool, and I would hand him his plane. Then he'd throw it, just like you do a normal paper airplane. But instead of going all crazy, and not flying very well (that's what my airplanes always do at least) this one zips across the room along the string. Scientist thought it was great, and played with it for a really long time. I think if I ever do it again though, I'll find something to tie the string to, instead of taping it. The tape held for a little while, but of course Scientist had to pull the string and it kept coming untaped. Also, I think it would be more fun to find a bigger area to do it in. I used the short side of my living room, and taped the string from the hall door to the front door, and that worked, but I think it would work better with more space and a steeper slant to the string.

I say steeper angle, because sometimes our plane got stuck in the middle and Scientist would have to push it more, which he didn't mind at all, but ya. Anyways it was still a really fun activity, and I think the kids enjoyed it. (My camera ran out of batteries during the actual activity. So these pictures are all a reinactment Scientist did for me after his friend had already gone home.)

And of course let's not forget the most important part: the snack! It was really easy to make. I took a cheese stick and shoved a pretzel through the middle of it to make wings. Then for the tail, I just broke another pretzel in half and poked it into the back. Wa-la! And Scientist thought it was so cool.

So that was our airplane themed morning. You can see now why I am so excited about my cool book. There were more things in there too, that we could have done if we wanted to. (I actually did try to find an airplane book at the library, but as per usual the Provo library was pretty picked over, so it didn't happen.) That's one of the great things about the activities in the book, you can do them in any order and adjust them to fit your schedule really easily. We will most difinitely being doing theme day again soon!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Coming Out of Our Comfort Zones

Mad Scientist has inherited a new bed. He’s been in his crib up until this point. Although he could climb out of the crib, he only did so in the mornings and after nap time. This, and the reassurances of a few friends that their same-age toddler transitioned no-sweat, gave me hope that learning to sleep in a big boy bed would be a piece of cake.

Scientist was excited for his new bed, right up until it was time to sleep in it, that is. He’d sit in the bed for story time and songs, and then we’d kiss him good night and he’d ask to be in the crib. After a few days, he’d go to sleep in the bed, but come morning he would be in the crib. After about a week of this, he’s about 50% for staying in the bed all night. And I begin to wonder.

Why is this transition so hard? Is learning to sleep in a bed so much more difficult or different than sleeping in a crib? In my adult mind, the answer is obviously no. But what about in the mind of Scientist? Maybe in his mind, he sees the new bed as a big unknown. Unknowns—whether they be fractions, speaking in public for the first time, starting up a conversation with a stranger on an airplane, learning to play the piano, or sleeping in a big boy bed— are intimidating, simply because they are unknown. We get excited about the idea of a new thing, but putting it to practice can be a little scary. We have to come out of our comfort zones in order to learn, but we tend not to like coming out.

What I am learning from this experience is that you can’t force someone out of their comfort zone, at least not if you want positive results. But I do think we can provide opportunities for our kids to come out, and then give them the time they need to decide to do it on their own. If we want to be involved in lifelong learning, I think we also need to get comfortable coming out of our comfort zones. The only way to do that is to practice. We can help our kids (and ourselves) practice by creating an environment where they feel safe. Scientist knows that he’s not going to have any negative consequences if I come in in the morning and he’s slept in his crib that night. That will give him the confidence he needs to test out the bed, because he knows if he tries it and isn’t comfortable with it, he can always go back to where he is comfortable. By practicing coming out of our comfort zones and having positive experiences with it, we will build the confidence we need to come out in situations where the “risks” may be a little greater.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Passion leads to learning

This week we learned about M.C. Escher. I was gathering information for a lesson on tessellations but I learned more than I bargained for! M.C. Escher failed high school after he failed his final exams in 4 subjects. He admits that he was poor at arithmetic and algebra and never understood abstract mathematical concepts. He went on to trade school and decided to become a graphic designer. Almost 2o years later he was inspired by the patterns on a Moorish castle and became fascinated by the idea of regular division of a plane. He wrote, "It remains an extremely absorbing activity, a real mania to which I have become addicted, and from which I sometimes find it hard to tear myself away." This passion lead to writing a book on plane symmetry and to becoming an accomplished research mathematician, as well as a famous artist.

I think his life is a profound lesson. I think it's important to teach my children basic concepts, but I can't expect them to excel in any subject until they feel a passion for that subject. So how do I make my children feel passionately about a subject? Honestly, I don't think I can. It's like trying to make my children like a new food. I can introduce the food, I can make them try a little but ultimately they have to decide if they're going to love it. Last week I finally convinced Princess to try soup for the first time in two years and her response was positive (thank goodness). When we had soup again last night she said she needed more because she loves soup!

I've been beating Thinker over the head with fractions for years. This year I finally decided enough was enough. I told him he could decide if and when he was going to study math. Well, there was no studying for several days but then this morning he covered three sections. Now don't get me wrong, I believe parents are responsible for giving their children the building blocks of an education. Children need to be taught to read, write and do basic arithmetic but sometimes it takes stepping back and letting go to let them discover their own abilities and passions.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

About Lisa

This is my fifth year as a homeschool mom. I guess I'm what you would call an eclectic homeschooler, picking up a good idea here and a great piece of curriculum there. I spend a good deal of time thinking about how each of my children learn and think so I can choose just the right materials for them. In my free time I enjoy reading, hiking, yoga and gardening. My husband, Jared, and I have four children.

My oldest is my "Thinker." I believe all children are gifted but Thinker is double so. These kids come with lots of different labels, twice gifted, twice exceptional (2e), right-brain thinkers, whatever you want to call them, they are a joy and a challenge to raise. Thinker is always doing just that; thinking, creating, questioning, wondering. It's like I can see the gears in his head cranking - all the time. At 12 years old he is a writer, an artist, a naturalist and an avid reader.

My second son is my "Engineer." Unlike myself and his brothers he is a very logical, sequential thinker. He always wants to know how things work. He is 9 years old and loves scouting, building, doing science projects, and running around outside with anyone who has the time to play with him.

"Puzzler" is my third son and my second 2e child. He is a puzzle because with speech, auditory and visual processing issues we are never quite sure how much he is learning or what he understand until he lets out a burst of profound insight. He is particularly gifted with mathematical concepts. Like most seven year olds he likes to play outside, do legos, build with blocks and play make believe.

I hate to use such a sexist term but our only daughter really is our family's "Princess." She is an adorable angel and holy terror all mixed into one. Her high energy and volatile temper certainly keep us on our toes! She is four years old and loves to be read to and always wants to join in school time with her own "workbooks."

About Krystal

Our family, three boys and a girl. Outnumbered, that’s me. But I love it. I’m Krystal. The Mom. The Wife. The Writer. The Reader. The Athlete/Sports Enthusiast. The Chef. The Party Planner. The Talker. The Seamstress. The Record Keeper. The Daydreamer. I have lots of shoes that I fill, but recently I’ve decided to try on a new pair and become The Educator.

Aaron also wears a lot of different shoes. Besides being a loving husband and a wonderful father, he is a student, working on a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering. He works part time on campus doing research for a professor. While juggling those things, he and I are also the resident managers of our apartment complex. When he finds time for hobbies, he enjoys being a web developer, building things out of wood, hiking, biking, camping, being outside, and problem solving.

Mad Scientist, our two year old, has only two pairs of shoes, the Sweet Toddler pair, and the Terrible Toddler pair. He can change back and forth between them as fast as a lightning strike. We call him Scientist because he is a very hands on learner, and tacked Mad on the front because he has no inhibitions, yet. He likes to wear socks on his hands, sleep with anything from my kitchen drawer, and make funny faces for the camera. He likes to know how things work, and tests out everything to find its purpose. Scientist is in the experiment and explore stage; link that with his already curious personality, and he’s double the trouble. Scientist is a laid back, easy going, busy kid who keeps us laughing and on our toes all the time.

Sponge, that’s the little guy in the front. He’s a year old. We’re still waiting to see what kind of shoes he’ll grow up to wear. Right now he’s just soaking everything in. Sponge is learning to walk, cutting teeth, and getting into anything within his reach. He’s a happy baby, but not as laid back as his older brother. Sponge has the most incredible blue eyes and his smile makes his whole face light up. Sponge would be completely content to follow Scientist around all day trying to join him at his antics.

As a family we are just starting to get our feet wet in the homeschooling atmosphere. We have lots to learn and I’m sure it will be a trial and error process, but we’re excited at the possibilities spread out before us.