Find Joy. Seek Truth. Be Kind.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dr. Temple Grandin Talk

I was lucky enough to have a chance to see Dr. Temple Grandin speak in person at our church recently. Dr. Grandin is a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. She was also diagnosed with autism as a small child. Her parents were encouraged to institutionalize her, but chose a different route. She is well known not only for her professional accomplishments, which are many, but for her work advocating for people with her diagnosis. Her many books have given insight into how her own mind, and those of others with autism, work.

I was very interested to hear what she had to say. I have some very right-brained kids, not quite autistic, but one at least might get an ADHD diagnosis if he had to sit still in school. From "Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World" I understand that ADHD is "on the spectrum" of right-brained to autistic. My experience has been that a good chunk of the population, certainly of the people I know and love, are more right-brained than left-brained, so this is a topic I migh explore some more.

It was eerie how much I recognised as she described herself, not only in my kids, but in me! There was so much she touched on, and the subject isn't one in which I'm well versed, so I'm sure I missed a lot. I want to read her books now, so I can learn more about this from her perpective.

I am jotting down my notes here, mostly so that I have them somewhere where I can't loose them, but also to share them with you. I'd be very interested in what your experiences are and how closely her experience and beliefs match your experience.

I recognised her experience, yet I'm not sure I completely agree with all of her conclusions. She very much credits her "50's upbringing" and mainstreaming in school with her ability to function so well. After the talk I asked her if she had any experience with homeschooled austistic kids. It seemed that she didn't, but supported the idea for high school aged kids. (She hated high school). She then went on to say she would be concerned about elementary aged kids being homeschooled. When I asked why she said (all together now) "socialization". (Head shaking. Sigh. Is there anywhere homeschoolers don't get this?) She was busy with book signing, so that was the end our of brief exchange, but I would have liked to talk with her more about this.

Notes: (remember that I'm RBed too, have awful handwriting, poor short term memory, and am stuck inside w/ 3 active boys due to a blizzard and so have distracted attention. If my notes don't make sense to you, it's me, not her!)

She defines herself as a "completely visual thinker"
Early intervention is important
Keep child engaged
kids often have sensory issues (some can't see and hear at the same time)
attention shifting problems
recommends developing areas of strength (don't dwell on weaknesses)
OK to skip subjects (like algebra) that they just don't get - move on!

Listed 3 kinds of thinkers (all can be on the spectrum)
1-Visual (thinks in pictures, good at/enjoys drawing)
2- Musical/mathematical (pattern oriented)
3 - Verbal (often likes history, poor at drawing)

Tips for supporting kids on the spectrum

Teach in many places, give lots of data/experiences so they can categorize
Teach flexible thinking
find friends via shared interests
"fill their internet"
use manipulatives for math
recognise that their fear is often on overdrive, they are anxious and vigilant
50's upbringing helped her learn social skills - taking turns, use manners, please others, do as asked, consistant expectations (between home and school), bad behavior not tolerated
use fixations to movitvate
address sensory issues

Prepare for employment - find work, mentors, show kids variety of occupations and activities, build portfolio, read various trade journals, sell skills (not personality)

She emphasized that it's important to learn to do and complete an assignment in order to be employable.

She had so much more, a list of famous people who would have been diagnosed in modern times, a long discussion of meds, comparisons of scans of her brain vs. a "normal" brain, funny asides, her insight on animals and her professional work, comments about the HBO special being made about her life....

If any of you have heard her speak, read her books, or have any insight into this, I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

If you don't use a curriculum, what do you do?

Just saw a newbie question again this morning. It went something like this:

"What curriculum do you use for math, grammar, and reading? Is it working? What do you like and not like about it?"

LOL! It's not too different than the questions I asked at my first homeschooling support meeting. I honestly didn't know any better. It was inconceivable to me that one could "teach" without a curriculum. Well, I don't know about "teaching", but one can certainly LEARN without a curriculum!

The first thing to ask is "what is worth learning?" Certainly most of us see the value of reading, writing and basic arithmetic, but does it have to be learned in the proscribed way it's done in school? Does it have to be learned by a specific age? Are these the most important things to be learning right now? What else rates attention in your life? An advantage of homeschooling is that we can approach learning on an individual level, working with each child exactly where they are to reach goals that we've created together, at a pace that works best for each child and family.

Most of what is worth learning really does just come up naturally in our lives. Think about what you did yesterday. Did you have to read something? Did you have to write? (Even a grocery list or an email counts!) Did you use arithmetic? (Cooking, sewing, wood working, and budgeting are all activities that require arithmetic.) What else did you do? Did it involve music, art, physical movement, creativity? How do you choose to spend your time?

I love to read, books are my gateway to other times, places and people. Books are my retreat and sanctuary when I need a break. Books, magazines, and the internet are where I go to learn about interesting topics and activities. So of course I'm modeling for my children how reading and books are part of my quality of life. We go to the library together. I read out loud to them. We listen to books and lectures on tape together. They make up stories and I sometimes take dictation for them. When they were little they asked about the letters and we told them the sounds each letter makes. Eventually they start recognizing words and finally take off on their their own private reading adventures.

I could go on like this with other subjects, math, music, history, art, science, etc... We find interesting ways to spend our time, new things we'd like to do or learn about. We do the daily work that comes with family life in our community. We think about what we'd like to do in the future and what we need to do/learn now to reach those goals.

"What do you do if you don't use a curriculum?"
We live.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How do you homeschool? (Where to start.)

This is a question I got again today. You'd think it would be easier to answer than it is.

It's a lot easier to say what we don't do.
We don't use a curriculum. We don't make lesson plans. We don't do unit studies. We don't follow any one book or method. We're not radical unschoolers, nor classical homeschoolers. We don't follow Charlotte Manson, Montessori, or Waldorf methods. Yet we utilize bits and pieces from all of these and other sources.

It's easiest to say we're "eclectic homeschoolers", which can mean anything. It's kinda like saying "agnostic" when talking about religion, or "liberal arts" when asked for a major in college. It tells you more about what we don't do than what we do do. It sounds like maybe we haven't made up our minds, eh? Yet, we have. We've made up our minds to follow our own path. We've taken it upon ourselves to make that path. Sometimes it's right on the same path as others, or at least paraells other paths, but other times we're on our own. Sometimes it feels like we need a machete to find our way.

None of this helps a newbie wanting to know where to start though, does it? So here's my spiel for folks wanting to start, but not knowing where.

I recommend you educatate yourself before you worry about what curriculum to buy or what model to follow. As a parent you are in a unique position to know your child(ren) and family best. This is also a good time to look for local homeschooling groups for both support and fun. Don't be afraid to ask about others' homeschooling journies. Most of us remember being newbies and are only too happy to share our experience. By doing some research and meeting other homeschooling families, you'll start to get a feel for the great variety of options out there and what will work for your situation.

If you've pulled your child from school then you may need to take some time to "deschool". I haven't had much experience with this myself, since the only school we did with the kids was one year of part-time preschool with my oldest. What I have seen with others, is that kids coming out of school have different issues than those who've always been homeschooled. I would recommend treating this time as an enriched summer vacation. Take the pressure off your kid(s). While you learn more about homeschooling be sure to also spend some one-on-one time with your child. While going to the library, pool, parks, natural areas, local museums and galleries, watching movies, reading together, etc... you will strengthen your bonds and learn about each other. When this deschooling period has passes (and don't rush it) you can work with your child to determine what path (or lack there of :-) ) you want to take together.

Here are some resources that have influenced my approach to homeschooling
Home Education Magazine
Apple Stars (Collaborative Learning and right brained learning blog)
The writings of John Holt
The writings of Susan Wise Bauer
The writings of Maria Montessori
The Charlotte Mason method
The Waldorf method

A Thomas Jefferson Education
The Well Trained Mind
Dumbing Us Down
Whole Child Whole Parent
Everyday Blessings
Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Odyssey of the Mind: what I learned, things I wish I'd done

Well, today was it. Our local Odyssey of the Mind tournament. (Also known as OotM, or OM, except we're not supposed to use "OM" since it's copyrighted somewhere.) Whew! We started meeting for practice way back in September. In retrospect that was WAY to early to start a primary team. Sigh. It seems liked a marathon, especially in the fall when I was also assistant coach for an FLL LEGO Robotics team.

I've learned a lot. The training the state OM (so sue me) organization provided was invaluable, both to coaching OM and to coaching Lego. I learned even more from working with the kids. Then we added yet another level of experience by actually going to the tournament and being judged.

I have to admit that there were times where if I hadn't made the commitment to the kids, I'd have quit. They were most often the times my kid wanted to quit and made it miserable to get to practice. He was the reason I got involved, but after about 6 weeks of practice he was done. Being the coach's kid, and me not having alternative child care, he had to keep going. That was hard on him.

The primary groups are kids age 5-7, very young, some very shy and others very .... right brained and active. :-) I'm not sure I'd recommend this for this age group unless each and every kids desperately wanted to do it.

If I had a team of eager kids, and had known then what I know now here's what I'd do different.

Make sure the kids want to be there, and give them an out if they don't. Practice somewhere with few distractions. (We were at a parents home w/ lots of toys, sibs, pets, and exercise equipment around.)

With this age group I'd worry less about OA (outside assistance) and more about improving skills and increasing confidance and courage. We were way too hesitant to make suggestions, give assignments, and explain our opinions.

We had two coaches. I'd work earlier to be very clear about what our roles and goals were. I'd have a project management schedule worked out so that we knew exactly what we needed to have done when. I'd also assign a parent to keeping up with all the paperwork and registration stuff. (It was distracting and took from my energy with the kids)

I should have worked with the kids more on drama stuff, projection of voice, setting up the set, cues, reminding each other of the cues. They needed more practice under pressure. We should have run more spontaneous as if it was being judged. We should have talked more about team work, but also worked more on individual issues.

All in all I think that for 4/6 of the kids it was a great experience. For the other 2 I think is was a good experience, but not one that they'll be wanting to repeat soon.

As for the coaches. Well, it's a little early to know if we'll be doing it again.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What's important?

It's hard to know what to teach our kids. Technology changes so fast these days. Get just a little behind and you're out of the race. There's so much competition. So much to learn. How can we be sure our kids will succeed? Truthfully, we can't. There are no guarantees, the world can throw a curve ball into our plans at anytime.

Still, I think that there are some fundamentals that will make an individual successful in any time or place.

First you have to define success. Is it accumulating wealth? Knowledge? Achieving fame? While each individual in their own place and time will have their own definition, I think you can generalize to some degree. Real success is having work that you enjoy doing, a healthy family life, living in community with others, growing spiritually, having space for creativity. I would like my children to know how to accumulate wealth, but if they don't, it's ok. I would hope that they have a core base of knowledge, but what's more important is that they love to learn and know how to do it. I would actually hope they don't have great fame, tho' I'm not sure THEY would agree with that :-)

What I really want for them is to live a life worth living. I want them to have an examined life, an endless curiosity, useful work, a loving heart, a generous spirit, a worthy character... Oh, there is so much I want for them. How can I give them all this?

I can't. This is a gift they must give themselves. As a parent I have great influence, but not total control. So, what can I do?

I can lead through example, flawed as I am. Through history and literature, we can explore the lessons of a thousand lives. I can point out the wonders of the natural world and ponder the mysteries of the universe with them. We can share the glorious symmetries of mathematics, the emotional journey of music, the mirror of the human spirit found in art. We can work side by side learning daily skills and discussing philosophy. I will tell them what I hope for them, try to give them the tools I think they'll need in this world, and love them unconditionally. After that, it's all up to them.

How do you define success? What does it mean to live a worthy life?

Friday, March 6, 2009

J's Questions

My recent inspiration for blogging has come from my friend "J". She has used an on-line public school at home for years, but is finding that it's not quite working out for her. Knowing how I enjoy blathering on about homeschooling, she asked me some questions. Here are some of her questions and my very quick replies. I hope to go into more depth with these in the coming weeks.

Would it be more work for me to teach without the public on-line school? (finding curriculum I like and creating lesson plans, and structuring it to accomplish what is needed)

It really depends on what you want to put into it.

I know families where the parents did next to nothing academic with their kids. Of those I know who've had to go to public school for some reason, they've adjusted well. Others already have kids off to college, some in very competitive programs.

I know another unschooling family where the mom never gets out on her own, spends pretty much every minute one on one w/ her kids. Her kids are also fine. (But I'm not sure she is.)

There's a middle ground, but it's in a different place for everyone, and even in a different place for each individual over time.

Think about breastfeeding. Did each of your babies have the same style and schedule, or did they vary? Did they stay the same way throughout breastfeeding? Was your experience just like that of every one else you knew? Did the differences mean that one of you was doing it "wrong"? You'll find something that works for you, it will evolve into something else - probably something you didn't predict!

If I choose to use something else, how could I ensure that my children would be learning everything they need to cover for that age (I know, who says they should learn XYZ at what age). (use the Kirsch books, What Your xxgrader Needs to Know??????)

When I get nervous I look up stuff in "What your x-grader needs to know", (the Kirsch books). Every single time I've done this I've walked away thinking that on the things I think are important my kids are on par or ahead of the curve. They are often behind in some things, things I don't worry about. Examples of ahead are reading comprehension, math, history. Examples of behind are history, arithmetic, spelling and handwriting.

For example, my kids don't always have the textbook history "1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue". Rather they know the stories of history, some dates that have stuck with them (1066 = William the Conquer in England) and a lot of the development of technology. In math they understand concepts, do the math in their heads, but don't always get it right w/ pencil and paper. I have my own priorities, based on my values and understand of their development, which I hope to write more about later

What kind of expense would I expect?

Again, it's what you feel like and have available.

I know of unschooling families that have very little and spend practically nothing. Another has a parent making 6 figures and spends outrageously. With the use of the library, on-line resources, local free resources, trading w/ friends, using the homeschool co-ops, etc., it's not necessary to spend much at all.

Did I mention the library?
I love the library. :-)

Do I just need to spend more time modifying the curriculum to my children's learning styles and be more aggressive about not doing certain things?

That's up to you. Where do you want to spend your time and energy? Is what you're putting into the program worth what you're getting out of it?

(I am really struggling with whether my 5th grader needs to know about diagramming sentences, transitive and intransitive verbs). My gut instinct is that he doesn't need to know these things unless he wants to be an English professor.

I don't know how to diagram a sentence. Nor does my husband. In fact I can count on one hand the people I know who can. (I'm sure I know more than that, but the subject just doesn't come up, ya know? :-D ) I think that you're right that this is specialized knowledge that very few people need. It might be useful if you want to make fun of someone who doesn't know it tho. ;-)

(There is an element of snobbery in education that I think does all of us a disadvantage. I want my kids to appreciate other people as individuals, I don't want them constantly comparing and judging people based on superficial things. )

Having said that, will not knowing these things hinder him in getting good grades to enable him to progress to higher education?????

This is the question isn't it? "How can I be sure my child will have what it takes to succeed in the world" This is every parent's question/fear. Our whole job as parents is to ensure our children's survival and success. Public education has told us that if our kids just jump through their hoops, work hard, and get the grades, success will follow. Yet when we look at the evidence, that isn't happening. That's part of why so many people homeschool. Even those for whom this isn't a primary reason will admit that they still have concerns. There are those who trust "the Universe" or "God" or whatever, but "Luck favors the prepared" and "God helps them who helps themselves". So what do we do?

I argue that the real questions each parent should ask individually is "What does it take to survive?" "What does it mean to succeed?" "How do we get there from here?" No one can really answer these questions for you. We can only give our opinions. You must find your own Truth, and then choose how to live it.

Some places to look to help you answer these questions are:
Your family, values, and religion (do you have a holy book? What is it? What does it tell you? Does it have all the answers?)
friends and community
people who you admire (living or dead)
The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People
A Thomas Jefferson Education

I read this statement recently and it has really got me thinking "What would you teach your children if you weren't concerned with public opinion?"

EXACTLY! What is important to you? What do you use/do in your daily life? What do the people you admire do? How did they get their formal education? How did they learn to do what they do now? Are these the same thing? How do you know what you love to do? What are your passions? How do you help your children find their own passion? If you and/or your child can't think of a passion then there's a place to start! Explore until you find something that lights you up from the inside.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Zen Freedom

In the space between stimulus and response - is choice.

So often we just do the first thing that comes into our minds. In fact, sometimes our response never even registers in our mind. We just react, and then react to the reactions of others.

There is another way. We can choose not to react. We can choose not to act at all. We can accept, experience, think, then choose our response. I'm inspired by that possibility. There is freedom in that space where choice lies.

Ideas for future posts

I've had so many ideas in the last months, but no time. Here's just a few of the things I'd like to blog about.

How to homeschool/unschool math
Our Odyssey of the Mind experiences
Our FLL Lego Robotics experiences
How to start homeschooling
How to unschool
Why each families' homeschooling approach is unique
Growing into ourselves
Ideas for not your average field trip
Where to have cheap fun in CO
Thrifty living
Finding your own style
Identifying your own values and ideals
How to get there from here?
What I've learned from homeschooling
What I've learned from coaching
What I want to learn
Why it's important to always be learning
When Mommy needs a time-out
Time-in - a better alternative
A Thomas Jefferson Education - unchooling classically?
Fostering a love of learning
Family learning
Why character is more important than facts
Educational guarantees - not
Crafting - lots of stuff here!
My "organizational" methods (humorous essay ;-))
Favorite on-line resources
Favorite homeschool shopping
What every child should know by age 12 (that they are loved, valuable, basic modern survival skills)
entrepreneurial kids
Kids, family, and music
living with passion

So, my readers (all two of you :-D ) what would you like me to blather on about first?

How we started homeschooling

Yup, I've been busy and not posted much. I've had so much I wanted to write, but no time to sit down! Finally today I got a question, one I've been asked before, and am inspired to start answering it here. I suspect there are many more blogs to be done on this topic!

I'd be interesting in reading your philosophy and how you came to educate the way you do. If you would share the pros and cons of how you see structured learning, homeschooling and unschooling. Throw it at me. I know you have it all in your head and maybe, just maybe, you have it written down somewhere :)

Nah, I didn't have it written down. Until now. As always, it's subject to change. Take what works for you and ignore what doesn't.

how you came to educate the way you do

We started decided to homeschool when my oldest was not quite 4. He'd been attending a wonderful local Montessori school two mornings a week. Towards the end of the spring semester they informed us that they would no longer offer part time places, but wanted the kids everyday of the week, all day if possible. There were so many reasons this wasn't a good idea for us: money, commute time, philosophical differences with the presentation of the program, etc., but the biggest reason is that I LIKED my kid and wanted to spend that time with him myself! I couldn't imagine that it was a good idea for him to spend most of his waking hours away from his mother and family.

I hunted around for other preschools, but didn't find any that I liked as well as the one he'd been at. Being sailors and loving travel, we'd had in our mind that someday we'd like to live on a boat and travel the world. I knew that would mean homeschooling the children, so the concept wasn't new to me. It seemed like "homeschooling" preschool was pretty do-able, even for me.

Being me, I started reading. I found books like LLL's "Playful Learning, An Alternate Approach to Preschool", "The Preschooler's Busy Book" and the "Mother's Almanac" helpful for the preschool years. I'd already read "Whole Child, Whole Parent" when my oldest was a baby, and that greatly influenced my homeschooling as well as my parenting. Another book that helped sustain me is "Everyday Blessings, the Inner Work of Mindful Parenting" by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Those books (and many similar books) saw me through that first year. While my oldest was a preschooler I was still nursing his baby brother, so this relaxed approach really suited us. Nap-time was my time to read. I added to my recreational reading books about homeschooling, education, and child development. One of the first I read was Nancy Wallace's "Better than School". That led me to the writings of John Holt. At the same time I discovered Jesse Wise and Susan Wise Bauer's "The Well Trained Mind", which seemed at the time to be totally opposite in approach to what John Holt preached. (More recently I've discovered "A Thomas Jefferson Education", and "collaborative learning", which come very close to describing how I melded these two methods.) I discovered many other methods of homeschooling, the Charlotte Manson Method, Montessori, Waldorf, Classical, too many curriculums to list. My head was spinning. What to do?

I found a local homeschooling support group and went to a meeting. Immediately after introducing myself I asked "So, what curriculum and methods do each of you use? Do you like it? Why or why not?" I held my pencil to my notepad expectantly. I looked around the circle and saw many blank, befuddled, and amused faces. Not one had a straight answer for me. Well for heaven's sake. What did they do with their kids all day?

In this series of posts I hope to explore my answers to that.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

February's Books

  • The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follet
  • The Tales of Beedle the Bard, by J.K. Rowling
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
  • The Complete Tightwad Gazette, by Amy Dacyczyn
  • Jonny Bunko, by Daniel H. Pink
  • The Known World, by Edward P. Jones
  • Kite Runner, by Khaled Hossein