April 30, 2011

A time of testing...

It’s that time of our school year when I set aside a handful of days for the administration of standardized tests.  As homeschoolers, one of the requirements expected of us by the state in which we live is to have each child tested to ensure that they have made sufficient academic progress over the past year.  I do my best to keep the kids from feeling any unnecessary stress about this part of school, making clear to them how well it always goes for them, and that we’re simply fulfilling our responsibility in compliance with the law.
As much as I have no objection to such a requirement, I also have no misunderstanding that these tests will fully demonstrate what my children have learned this year.  It will measure their progress in reading, math, etc. with some degree of accuracy since the same time last year, but it doesn’t begin to describe their growth, achievement, and learning.  A printed packet of what they’ve learned would have to include hundreds of photos of all their experiences as well as detailed accounts of those moments of awakening to a new idea or grasping a concept with excitement.  Even then it would only scratch the surface of what our children have learned this year from books, from their parents, from each other, and from life experiences.
But the school district does not require such an accounting of our year, nor would they likely appreciate a package that size being stuffed into their mailbox.  I also do not have the time nor the inclination to share such an exhaustive account.  But I will take this opportunity in this simple forum to share a small sample of what my kids have learned this year, things that won’t be revealed by filling in dots on tests of vocabulary and mathematics…

How to care for a wounded baby bird

How to ride a bike

How to knit

How to play a friendly game of poker

How to shoot pool when you're only four feet tall

What things are like underground

What things were like 150 years ago

How to build an airplane


And how to fly one too:

April 23, 2011

Educational enrichment...




On the heels of reading By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischmann, an energetic and exaggerated tale set during the Gold Rush of 1849, our younger kids spent some time practicing their panning skills at a ditch they had dug behind our house that had filled with rain water.  Seeing their enthusiasm, my husband took them down to our creek to do some (almost) serious gold prospecting.  We live on ten acres of nearly all wooded property, so why not find out if there’s gold in them thar hills?

Setting off to strike it rich...

Some panned with tin foil pie plates, but one of these had been destroyed in the panning of the backyard ditch.  Audra used her umbrella instead, inspired by our book.  In the story, a hole is shot through the washpan belonging to Praiseworthy, a butler, who improvises and finds it quite effective indeed...

Gold fever

A speck worth examination

Daniel didn't find gold, but he did discover someone's abandoned tennis ball, a treasure he felt was worth pursuing.

Zach, left, decided the slim chance of finding gold wasn't worth getting his sneakers all wet...

...so Zach decided to play.  It may look like he is pole vaulting, but he laid this down across the creek and attempted to walk across on it, with questionable success.

Many years ago Scott read the same book and loved it then as much as the other kids do now.  He went along to watch their fun and have some fun in the woods himself...

...shooting his airsoft pistol.  No prospectors were injured.

April 16, 2011

Let's get out of here...

Field trips are an important part of any well-rounded education.  Since we homeschool our children, the flexibility in our schedule lends itself to these excursions.  Moving to the South a few years ago extended the list of interesting and educational places we can easily visit.  The kids think we’re on vacation or simply going out for the day, but just like sneaking vegetables into their otherwise tasty pasta dinner, my husband and I inject learning into their fun on these outings mostly undetected.  Our children are none the wiser but all the more knowledgeable as we enjoy time together as a family while learning more about the world around us and its history:

Audra getting better acquainted with new friends
Rock climbing
Piano lesson
Flight simulator (easy for Scott, having flown the real deal before)
Smoky Mountains in Tennessee
Gettysburg, PA
Examining a WWII airplane at a local air show

Fredericksburg, VA
Fredericksburg, VA
Washington, D.C.

April 9, 2011

Let's start at the very beginning...

I’m thoroughly enjoying this season of homeschooling, in which I am both a high school teacher to our fourteen-year-old and an elementary school teacher to our twin eight-year-olds and our six-year-old.  Over the past several weeks I’ve shared with you some of the things we do in various subject areas to meet the needs of the broad age range of our children. But today I’d like to take a look back at their preschool years, the educational foundation they share in common growing up here at home in the Wilburness.
Preschool is all about life experience, whether through imaginary play or trying your little hand at grown-up activities.  It’s a sweet and often funny period of our children’s lives when imitation reigns as their go-to response, which should remind us to be a good example to our little ones.  In my view, the preschool years are critical to establishing a love for learning in our children.
In keeping with the theme of early childhood education, this glance back at how we handled those early years will have few words but lots and lots of pictures.  Are we ready, boys and girls?  Do we have our listening ears on and our eyes up front?  Let’s begin!

First, the essential subjects:
History

Geometry


Literature

And the arts:
Music

Visual Arts

Dramatic Arts
We offered several electives:

Mechanical Engineering

Electrical Engineering

Agricultural Studies

Computer Science
 
Organized Sports
    
Driver's Ed.

Field trips:
Zoo

Museum

And last but not least, two critical components of any quality preschool program:
Snack Time

Nap Time

April 2, 2011

How we made it through the Strait of Magellan without ever leaving our sofa...

“Mom, you know how Harriet Tubman was called 'Moses' because she led people out of slavery?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Well, I was thinking about it, and the way she followed the North Star at night and the moss on the north sides of the trees by day is kind of like how Moses and the Israelites followed the pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day.”

Audra Wilbur, literary analyst
This was not the observation of a teenager after reading about this extraordinary woman on a page or two in a history textbook.  This was the thoughtful parallel drawn by my sweet little six-year-old Audra as I read aloud to her and my twin eight-year-old boys from an engaging biography of Harriet Tubman written for middle school children, Freedom Train by Dorothy Sterling.   I elected not to point out the distinction between the temporary and miraculous provision the Lord gave Moses and His people as opposed to the natural ones in His creation upon which Audra’s new-found friend Harriet depended.  I simply told her it was an excellent observation.  And it was.  I hear these sorts of comments from these three little ones of mine on a regular basis.

Are they geniuses?  Their mother thinks that may be the case.  But they are also learning how to analyze the books that cross their paths.  They read plenty on their own, but reading aloud to them selections that are intended for older children is a vital component of our homeschooling.  Hearing the challenging vocabulary words and complex sentence structure helps them begin to employ those very things in their language, just as babies learn language best when we speak to them in something more advanced than “goo-goo ga-ga”.  By reading aloud to them accompanied by thoughtful follow-up conversation, not lecture, my kids have the opportunity to enjoy and learn from books that might be a struggle to read on their own.  Hearing the books aids in their language capability; discussing them together encourages and provokes their thinking capability.
The boys listening to the story from their perch;
education trumps laundry every time
We always have two books going at once.  One is a fun story closer to their grade level that requires no deep thought.  That’s the dessert at the end of the school day.  But each morning we begin with a meatier selection of historical fiction or non-fiction.  It’s a much more interesting way to learn history.  Reading articles in textbooks with dates and quick facts is lifeless, dry, and mind-numbing to me.  Not wanting to subject the kids to such torture, we instead like to read about it in the form of a personalized story riddled with dialogue and action.  Whether the characters are actual figures from history as in Freedom Train or fictional, the important historical events that create the backdrop of the story come to life.  We learn geography as we see where they travelled. We learn the causes of famous events as we hear the characters’ conversations.  And we see what day-to-day life was like in that particular time thanks to details woven seamlessly into the story that demonstrate it subtly and in a relevant way.

As with any good book club, our lively and informed discussion after our reading is essential.  I believe that children can participate in this in a meaningful way.  While admittedly my kids may more often learn something new from me as I expand on the details brought out in the story, I learn from them too.  Though I had known before that the heroine of our book had been compared to Moses even in her own time, I had never thought of that detail Audra noticed concerning how they each knew where to go next on their journey.  With a willingness to hear my children and treat them like the thinking individuals they are, my education continues on alongside theirs.  I look forward each morning to our literary guild meeting.  We’re all the richer for it.
Harriet Tubman has now taken her place in history and in the minds of my children.  Having finished that biography we’ve moved on to a treasure of a book set during the Gold Rush, By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischmann.  In this work of historical fiction, our colorful cast of characters suffering from gold fever have set off from Boston for San Francisco by way of the ocean, south for a long while, taking a sharp right, and heading north.  It’s silly and funny but jam-packed with information about that time in history.  It has captured my children's attention and mine, even though I read it years ago to my older son.  And should you wonder what “Tierra del Fuego” means or what perils lie in sailing the Strait of Magellan, ask my kids.  They can tell you all about it.