Archives for September 2015

A Day in Homeschool

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I called in sick to work today, which means that I was granted the rare opportunity to experience a day of homeschool with my family. I wanted to report on what I saw there.

My wife Kyrie has been homeschooling the kids for a few years now. She has been switching things up as she goes, as new and better ideas come to her. Kyrie is trained as a Montessori teacher, and taught for several years in both Montessori and public preschool. She recently attended a weeklong Waldorf homeschooling conference in Portland. And now she is integrating elements of the Charlotte Mason curriculum. Honestly, I don’t know how she does it. But what she’s doing now is what she has determined is best for the needs of each child (remember, we have four girls, aged 4, 6, 8 and ten).

We got up and made breakfast (pancakes) and the girls worked on their chores, got dressed and made their beds. School started promptly at 9:00. Kyrie had everything on a timer, so each subject or activity went on for the scheduled time and then we switched to the next. My times are approximate, as they are from memory. Be patient with me.

9:00 Circle time; greetings, prayer and Scripture reading.

9:20 Math for the 8 and ten-year old; worksheets at different levels with Kyrie available to help. The 6 year-old took this time to draw while I helped the 4 year-old occupy herself in the play kitchen in her bedroom.

9:35 Read Aloud. Kyrie read from Mary Pope Osborne’s retellings of American Tall Tales: today was Davy Crocket, and all the kids found this highly amusing.

10:00 Copywork. Girls took out their notebooks, whose pages have space for both drawing and handwriting. They copied out a short passage and illustrated it.

10:15 Morning Tea. Tea with milk and honey, and cookies!

10:30 Play time. We’re big on play time.

10:50 Nursery Rhymes. Kyrie read some assorted nursery rhymes and we ran outside to play “London Bridges.”

11:00 History. I was recruited to read from Ingri & Edgar Parin d’Aulaire’s illustrated biography of Benjamin Franklin. It was a hit.

11:50 Science. Kyrie read the excellent children’s book Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies. Girls did an exercise in which they took a sheet of paper and cut it into increasingly smaller pieces to simulate the rapid division of microbes. We discussed the importance of air and sunlight in keeping microbes at bay.

12:45 Lunch.

This ended the school day proper. After lunch girls have “rest time,” which usually consists of dividing into older and younger pairs and playing or drawing while listening to an audiobook. On special days they watch a movie.

In the afternoon they took a trip to the library in Corvallis, and played at Central Park.

It was a breakneck day! I was surprised by a couple of things. One was how engaged all the kids were in each activity. Kyrie reports that keeping everything to the timer helps to prevent burnout. They packed up whatever they were doing when it was time to move on to the next thing (that was the other thing that surprised me).

So, that’s what I’ve been missing out on. I kind of wish I could be going to homeschool every day. But I’m glad to let Kyrie run it.

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Reading, and What Comes Before

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“Daddy, do you think I’ll be able to read when I’m a grownup?”

This question came from my six year-old daughter. Her eldest sister, now ten, started reading when she was six, and moved straight from picture books to the Narnia series. The next oldest, now eight, endured similar frustration until everything clicked for her this year. Now she’s unstoppable and reading space on the couch is at a premium. I don’t think the six year-old has much to worry about.

My children are home schooled, and their mother is a skilled and experienced teacher, but there’s really no secret to how reading came to be a prized experience in our family. We have books. Lots of books. Books on the shelves, books on every flat surface, books on the floor and under the beds. Books we sought out and books that were gifted; books from frequent trips to the library and books that appeared mysteriously without explanation. Books that fall out when we open the car door.

The presence of books in the home is probably the most powerful way to encourage literacy in children. After all, kids learn what’s important from what is in their environment. A long-term study found that having books on hand is a more significant indicator of a child’s future academic success than the parent’s level of education (which was previously though to be the most important factor). According to the study, “Having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.”

Reading to your children is important, of course. After all, they have to know what those leafy things are and how they work (and why nothing will happen when you swipe or click them). There are a variety of preliteracy activities that help to ensure that kids will read at the appropriate time.

  • Oral language skills. Children listen to adult conversations. They learn to ask questions. They tell stories, especially if we tell stories to them.
  • Play. Left on their own, children will naturally create their own narratives through the very important activity of playing with one another.
  • Language is everywhere. According to this article, “While it’s important to understand preliteracy skills and behaviors, you don’t have to directly teach them. Instead, try to follow your child’s lead. For example, interesting experiences like grocery shopping, bank visits, and trips to the veterinarian encourage children to talk. These informal occasions allow them to take risks using language, particularly in new and creative ways. They will play with familiar words, explore new meanings, and test uses of language in different settings.”

Having books around? Talking to kids? Is it really that easy? Not for everyone. My six year-old is still a little concerned that reading won’t happen during her childhood (I give her six months to a year). But reading, in this environment, will happen when it happens. Every child is different, and the skills will fall into place when they’re ready (as any parent who has struggled to potty train their child can attest).

We are fortunate to have much more than twenty books. Of course, this increases exponentially the possibility of library fines. Somehow, it’s always worth it.

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Packing and Unpacking

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There is an activity from the excellent Make Parenting a Pleasure curriculum that has been on my mind recently. It’s something we use in the parenting classes at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

The Suitcase Activity goes like this: draw a suitcase on a piece of paper. Be sure to leave plenty of room inside. Now think of your children as they are grown into young adults and ready to go out into the world. You are ready to send them off, but you have one task left as a parent: what do you want them to bring with them in their suitcase? What will they take with them throughout their lives that you have provided for them?

This activity, though simple enough, is interesting in a couple of ways. One is the way in which it inspires me to think long and hard about what, as a father, I have been teaching them, and the connection—if any—between my way I am raising them and the kind of people I want them to be. I’m sure you have found that what you think you are getting across to your kids may not translate as directly as you would like.

For example, if I want my daughters to be independent and self-sufficient, am I giving them the space that they need to investigate and discover things on their own, rather than dictating information? Do they feel a sense of wonder at the world and the way it works? Do they want to seek things out? More importantly, do I make them feel comfortable with experimenting even when they may come up with the wrong answer? Do they feel they can make mistakes? Are they ready to try something else instead? As you can see, this can get complicated. It can even, if you do it right, get a little unsettling.

So, if I want my children to be able to explore and come to informed conclusions, what do I put in their suitcase?

A drawing pad and pencils? My girls like to draw what they see. They like to tell stories with their pictures, and they like to portray things as they could be (climbing to the top of the mountain) or even as they couldn’t, just to see what it would look like (using their wings to land there).

Books? My eldest daughter is into reading herbalist tomes; they all like to pore over their huge natural history book and my wife’s hefty Art Through the Ages. Maybe they need a library card.

Tools? Definitely a screwdriver. Lots of tape. A compass, a flashlight and a magnifying glass. A mirror, so that what their actions and words can reflect what they mean to do and say (something their father is still working on).

What else? A key to my house. The phone numbers and addresses of their sisters. Knitted items. Snacks.

The other interesting thing about this activity is that, as you can see, it’s much more about us as parents—our hopes, fears and expectations, our strengths and limitations—than it is about them. And yet…there’s still time. If I want to put these things in their suitcase I’ve got some gathering to do.

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The One About Breakfast

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Breakfast is important for kids. Right? Are we on the same page? As the parent who gets up early with the kids, it is my job, post-coffee, to make breakfast.

If they are going to school, especially, protein is what they need to boost brain function. I am a cook of (to put it generously) limited ability. Thus, I try to get some protein in there and call it good. As much as I would like to just throw cheese or bacon on top of whatever we have lying around, I have come up with a bit of a repertoire:

  • Eggs (only two of my four children like them scrambled, so I usually boil them).
  • Granola, with yogurt or milk.
  • Oatmeal, with butter (real butter) and milk (whole milk, or cream if we have it); brown sugar, honey or maple syrup. With nuts and/or diced apple on the side.
  • Toast with butter (we like butter) and almond butter.
  • Rice pudding (leftover rice with milk, ¼ cup sugar and a teaspoon or two of vanilla). With sausage if we’re feeling lucky).

A favorite in our family is the alarmingly named dutch baby. It is a bit sweet, in the way of pancakes or crepes, but it also cleverly contains no less than six eggs. It’s, like, real food. I used to bake it in a large cast iron pan, though we were recently given six tiny ones, and the recipe divides neatly among them (I put the little pans on a cookie sheet when I stick them in the oven). Enjoy!

 

Dutch Baby

2 tbsp butter

6 eggs

1 and ½ cups milk

1 cup flour (we use a gluten-free baking mix, sometimes split with almond flour)

¼ cup sugar

½ tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

 

Preheat oven to 425.

Melt butter in a cast iron pan.

In a mixing bowl, combine other ingredients and mix well. Spoon mixture into the pan and place in the oven; bake for 20 minutes. Serves six.

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The Scientist on the Bike

This week’s post is from featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Esther.

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Several years ago researchers Alison Gropnik, Andrew Meltzoff, and Patricia Kuhl wrote The Scientist in the Crib: What early learning tells us about the mind. In it, they examine and explain how children develop their understanding of the world from birth through the preschool years.

Babies, they explain, act like scientists: they observe, investigate, form hypotheses, and test them. And, like good scientists, they try to replicate the results of their tests. Simply put: babies learn from everything that happens and from everything they make happen. Baby throws food on the floor and learns about gravity (and, in some cases, that dogs like to eat some kinds of people food). Baby also learns whether Dad finds this behavior amusing or annoying or doesn’t notice it. Baby repeats the experiment—are the results the same? What if I try it tomorrow? What if I try it with Mom? The experiments and the learning go on and on and on.

The experimentation doesn’t end in preschool; it continues—potentially throughout our lives. The drive to learn and figure out how the world works is powerful. And when we figure something out for ourselves—what a rush!

The other day I reflected on a child’s innate need to learn while watching a seven-year old riding his bike. He was with his younger brother, a friend and some neighbors. He was meeting lots of needs: exercise, fun, socialization. He was experimenting with what he could do with his body while riding a bike and learning about physics. He also conducted another experiment by riding off briefly with one of the neighbors without checking with his mother (or his friend) first: an experiment in social relationships and impulsive actions.

When he returned, his mother reminded him of the ground rules for bike riding, redirected him to some other activities for a while, and explained that he would not be able to ride his bike if he didn’t follow the rules. She also pointed out that riding off with the neighbor was rude to his friend.

She didn’t overreact to the incident (he is a sensitive, conscientious child, and lives in a safe neighborhood).

She didn’t embarrass him.

But she didn’t ignore it, either—she gave him information that would help him to learn.

That’s another great thing about babies (and all of us): we can learn from other people. We don’t need to experience everything ourselves.

Many parenting advisers talk about kids testing the limits of parental rules. Unfortunately, this is often phrased in terms of “parents vs. kids” or “you have to show them who’s boss.” But, most of the time, kids are not challenging parental power or out to annoy their parents—they are experimenting with how things work. They are trying to learn.

All of us learn best when we respect and trust the people who teach us. We learn best when our teachers have confidence in our ability to learn—when they don’t overreact to our mistakes or embarrass us. We learn best when our teachers have patience and treat us with respect.

Children need parents for guidance and protection and limits and supervision–and yes, they annoy us a lot and we often do overreact. We’re experimenting, too. And learning, and learning, and learning.

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to two boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.

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