Find Joy. Seek Truth. Be Kind.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Grown up games for older kids

You might have some idea that games can be educational. After all there are word games like Scrabble, Boggle, and Huggermugger. There are quiz games like Trivial Pursuit and "Are you smarter than a 5th grader". Hey, quizzes must be educational since they happen in school right? ;-)

Well, let me tell you, there's something even better out there. If the last game you remember playing was something like Monopoly or Sorry, you've been missing out on some great stuff.

All the games listed here are within reach of my 8 year old, yet enjoyed by this 40 something.

Settlers of Catan - a resource building game that started many folks on Euro games.

Carcassonne - build a medieval world in this tile laying game.

San Juan - We played this card game last summer when we were on the sailboat for 2 weeks. I never got tired of it.

Dominion - another card game I don't get tired of.

Alhambra - build a castle using tiles purchases with cards, way more fun than I make it sound.

There are many more Euro style games out there, these few are just some of the ones that my family have enjoyed.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Find

I usually have more to say, but tonight I just want you to notice I listed a new blog on my blog roll. This gal is just cool beyond words!


Check it out!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Math struggles

A friend on a list posted something like this:

"My 7yo struggles with math every single day. It takes us at least an hour and a half every day with her crying and we're still getting nowhere. I struggled the same way as a kid, and I'm not enjoying this."

Here's my response:

The great thing about homeschooling is that if what you're doing isn't working, you can do something else! Here are some of my thoughts. This is a subject I really care about. Math is really lots of fun! So if I get too passionate, forgive me. Take anything that works, and toss the rest. You know your family best.

I get that you're expecting a baby soon, and that keeping up with everything is starting to get overwhelming. Honestly, it's ok to just take a break, or at least relax your approach, until the baby is older and you're starting to come out of the baby fog. You could call it "extended spring break" or "unschooling" if you need to explain it to anyone (yourself included!)

7 is so young! I promise, you have plenty of time for her to learn what she'll need as an adult.

There's a fair bit of research that shows that emotional content affects learning. If what you're doing is hard on both of you, you're probably suffering needlessly. Things that have a positive emotional context tend to be remembered, with the positive emotions reinforcing the material. Negative emotions tend to be remembered too, associated with the material, and the material itself isn't remembered.

You say you struggled with math and still don't like it. I bet she picks up on this. She's a smart one. I think finding something you both enjoy, at least a little bit, could really help.

I have a B.S. in Engineering and a minor in mathematics. I loved math after about age 10. Before age 10/11 I was considered "remedial" but after I was "gifted". Both of these labels are wrong, made up to describe a child who doesn't meet the expectation of "average". Honestly, some kids just take longer to grow into themselves, and that is perfectly normal. She just might not be ready. Sometimes we get into our heads that we are "bad" at something, when really we just didn't meet another's arbitrary expectations. Unfortunately we can grow up believing someone else's inaccurate judgment of us.

So with all that in mind here are a few quick ideas to consider:

Set your curriculum aside for a bit. Take a break or try something else.

Play store, use play money to pay and make change. (My kids made up a game on their own where they cut pictures out of catalogs and then "sell" them to each other from their individual "store" and set up their own "house" or "town" using what they've purchased. )

Pennies are great manipulatives. Get some paper change rolls and roll the coins in your change jar. Give them to your favorite charity or use for a family treat.

Check out some books with math puzzles or math games from the library. We have math because it's useful and fun, work together to find out how it's useful and fun in your life.

Games - most games have an element of math in them, just play them! Have some fun! Try anything that uses dice, adds up points, has shapes, etc... Yatzee and Scrabble both use math. Legos, tiles, blocks, etc... all have innate mathematical relationships that help build math intuition.

Take a look at the book "Family Math" it has lots of games at different levels.

Check out Living Math for more ideas of how to "do" math, w/o boring work sheets.

There are so many ways to approach math, don't get stuck in something that isn't working for you.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Common struggles

On two entirely separate lists a similar topic came up. They went something like this (paraphrasing):

"My son is currently 6yo and in the 1st grade. He fights doing his school work. He's much more interested in playing with his LEGOs. He really hates writing, but I'm afraid to not make him do it. I am so stressed out."

or this

"My 7yo struggles with math every single day. It takes us at least an hour and a half every day with her crying and we're still getting nowhere. I struggled the same way as a kid, and I'm not enjoying this."

I posted about "language arts" earlier, and posted my response to the math here.

I hear the very real pain in these parent's voices. When both the parent and the child are struggling with homeschooling, it's time to change something.

When I write back (sympathetically I hope) I have to start with "They're still so little!" This is an age when they should still be playing. Play is a child's work. Play is how they learn. If you feel the need to guide their learning, then play with them! Don't make the learning process painful for either of you.

What's the Heinlein quote? "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It frustrates you and irritates the pig."

Unlike the pig, your child will learn, I promise. They might not learn the way you want or expect them too. By forcing something in a way that is contrary to their learning style, or too early, you run the very real risk of turning them away from something that presented differently, or just a little later, would be very natural and satisfying to them.

Folks, don't irritate the pig.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

How do you do it?

Another newbie posted to a group I'm on it went something like this:

"I'm concerned about being good enough to teach my kids."
"If I homeschool I will have no time away from my kids. I won't have time for myself."
"How do you do it without going crazy?"

Does this sound familiar? I hear variations of this all the time, from newbies, wannabes, and excusies. ("I would homeschool, but...")

Mostly I try to keep my mouth shut. No one really wants my opinion. I don't need to proselytize. I don't want anyone to homeschool who doesn't want to do it. But, since you're reading this, you either want my opinion or are a masochist. Either way, I aim to please. So, for what it's worth, here's my (until now unspoken) response.

"I'm concerned about being good enough to teach my kids."

If you want to be good enough, you are good enough. My experience is that healthy humans want to learn. The world is a fascinating place and kids know it. Wanting to learn is at the heart of homeschooling. I don't have to "teach". I'm here to facilitate and occasionally inspire.

Sure, when my kids were little, I "knew" enough to "teach" them. As they get older - not so much. For example, my 11 year old has surpassed my experience in computer programming. Yet, he's making great progress with out my expertise. Why? Because he wants to and has found mentors and resources. (Last time I programmed was in college using Fortran 77. Yes, that was a long time ago. Yes. I am an older parent. Moving on.)

"If I homeschool I will have no time away from my kids. I won't have time for myself."

If you still have toddlers and babies, you probably don't have much time for yourself. That's a function of having little ones, not of homeschooling. If you're at this stage in your life, you know that you have to make an effort to make time for yourself. I hereby give you permission to get out on your own now and then - for your own sanity, and for your children's safety. If nothing else, get your partner or a friend to take the kids occasionally so you have have just a little "me" time.

As the kids get older they get less suicidal in their choices and better at entertaining themselves. Especially if you have more than one child, they seem to be able to make their own entertainment for whole moments at a time. This is when things get fun. You can each work on your own projects yet be available to each other. You've already had practice making time for yourself when the kids were little. Don't stop now. Show them through example how important it is to take care of yourself.

"How do you do it without going crazy?"

Who says homeschoolers aren't crazy? We are outliers, 3 sigma out. To anyone who doesn't "get" it, we've got to look insane. I'm going to go on letting folks think that too. After all, if too many more people homeschool the parks and zoos and museums are going to get awfully crowded on weekdays.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Some days are like this, and some are like that

Yesterday at park day a friend said she wanted to "pick my brain". She had a not so wee baby wrapped on her, as well as a 5 year old and 7 year old running around.

"How do you do it?" she asked. She seemed tired and frazzled. "What do your days look like?"

So, here it is. What our days look like.

Some look like today. It's spring break in our local school district, so my oldest has a public schooled friend over. They're playing Magic the Gathering, safe from little brothers in the sanctuary of his bedroom. The two brothers across the street are off school too, so my younger two are outside playing with them, drawing a village on the side walk with chalk. When I'm done typing, maybe I'll go do some spring cleaning in the garden and spread some brown gold around. These are golden days.

Some days look like last Tuesday. We were home all day. My 11 year old did his piano practice and math before he got on the computer. My 8 year old decided HE wanted to do math too and picked up the first Life of Fred, doing the first test. Later in the day he asked if he could start Math-U-See and proceeded to do the first beta test. When our piano teacher got here I had to tell him to stop doing math so he could have his piano lesson. My 5 year old felt left out so got out markers and a write-on/wipe-off mat and practiced his numbers. Just before bed time the younger two were doing dot-to-dots, and the oldest was working on The Python Challenge. Wow! With the kids begging for more math, I tell you, I felt like a brilliant homeschooling mom.

Then there are other days. There are days when we have to do laundry, and the children are fighting, and it seems like every set of toys with small parts has been out on the floor for eons. There are days when we are running around doing errands and picking up and dropping off from classes, just to come home exhausted and grumpy.

The days I notice that the spoodge around the toilet is beginning to look back at me, the weeds are as tall as the children, my energy is falling and my temper is rising -these are real homeschooling days too. I don't write about them too often, I figure any parent would know those days are to be expected. I realized talking to my friend at the park, maybe you don't know. Maybe you think my days are really all golden magic math days. They're not. Still, I'm here to tell you it's O.K. The golden days will come, the hard days will pass. What your focus on is your own choice.

I could tell my friend was "doing" more than enough. This stage in our parenting lives, with little ones and babies, is a great time to explore unschooling and relaxed eclectic homeschooling. I'm not suggesting unparenting, nor am I suggesting letting the children run the house hold. I'm suggesting that we think about what is really important to us and then choose where we'll spend our energy.

Monday, March 15, 2010

If we treated left brained children like we do right brained children

Thank the gods that we live in a world with a variety of people. We need all of us to muddle through. I, for one, am grateful for the presence of those who are able to easily keep accounts, and even enjoy the process. I wish though that the processes and skills of right brained people were as appreciated, especially in the years of childhood. Too bad the world in general, and schools in particular, are currently dominated by the left brained mentality.

What if it wasn't? What if right brained processes were more valued? What if children were made to feel bad if they couldn't draw or make music? What if the inability to write and tell a good story was an obstacle to success? What if not visualizing in 3D was considered a learning disability? What if we had remedial creativity classes? What if the delayed learning of creative skills such as playing an instrument, singing, drawing, fiction writing, designing, etc. were emphasized at an early age? Would we improve the overall creativity of these poor people?

I think we can teach creativity. It's true that for these creativity disabled children, creativity may always be a struggle, but it's important to make sure that they are well balanced and able to be creative as adults. If we don't start now, it will only be more difficult for them as they get older. Imagine not being able to perform with an ensemble as an adult. Imagine the shame in needing a camera to make pictures, to record feelings, rather than being able to draw and paint original pieces. Imagine the inability to tell an original story. We can all understand the financial hardship that would be caused by not being able to create innovative products and business models. Such a life might well be said to be hardly worth living.

In fact, there are many techniques for helping the creativity disabled to exercise their weak creativity. Brainstorming techniques can be taught and practiced, improving many aspects of creative writing. Extra instrument practice, as well as more time with composition instruction, will improve their musicality. Remedial art classes, including visualizing and identifying color gradations, can help improve the artistic abilities of these slower children.

It's true that there are some children so disabled that they will never compose a truly unique piece of music of any real quality. There will always be some so challenged that their inability to write a story will never be remediated. Not every child can be an artist. But all can be taught to achieve a certain baseline level of technique. Many of these children are just slow to develop and access their right brained abilities. Given time and remediation many will achieve a basic skills. In time, with our help, I believe many of these kids will straighten out.

Luckily, for those who are unable to learn creativity, there are some jobs still available to the disabled. Even so, we must never give up trying to correct and improve their deficiencies. Much research is being done and new treatments will soon be available that will allow even more disabled children to achieve creativity.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

games for the younger set

Games have snuck into our family and homeschooling from the beginning. First unintentionally, and then, bowing to the inevitable, intentionally. In one way or another all games are educational. Some teach math concepts, some logic, some language concepts. All give opportunities to practice turn taking, good sportsmanship, and other social graces.

When the kids were little (2-4yo) we started out with stuff like "Hi-Ho Cherrio", "Chutes and Ladders", and "Candy Land". Just a year or two (4+yo) after that we moved onto "Uno" and "Set" that are enjoyable at any age. I found Boggle Jr. and Mastermind at local thrift shops. Boggle Jr. doesn't get used as intended, but who cares? We enjoyed Mastermind until we figured out the algorithm to always win.

This last year we've found some games that the whole family (ages 5-90) can play together and enjoy. (As opposed to "Candyland", which makes my eyeballs bleed. Shudder.) So, if you're looking for games for the very youngest that are actually enjoyable for you too, here are some to try.

Qwirkle Use shapes and colors on foam blocks to form a "qwirkle", a line of six blocks that has all the same or all different of a given aspect. (similar to Set)

The Yoga Garden Game This is a cooperative game that uses/teaches simple yoga positions and also gives players the opportunity to make up their own. It's pretty fun to see what positions the kids make up. Of course, then you have to do the pose - given how flexible kids are this can be challenging, and amusing. :-D

Apples to Apples Jr. This uses storybook knowledge (as opposed to the pop culture knowledge of the original) to make funny associations.

Blokus - uses colored tiles to pave areas. We vary the rules to allow the youngest to play.

Pitch Car The basics of physics and patience are learned with this game.

Hey! That's my fish! All out favorite here. Deceptively simple to learn and play, devious strategies can be invented to win.

Buzz Word Jr. This is one I was surprised to find my kids like. They get very.... creative. :-)

The aMAZEing Labyrinth Your opponents change the maze on each turn as you try to find your way through to locate an object. It's a fun and different game every time.

Hullabaloo (borderline, can only play a couple of rounds before the eyeball thing)

What are some of your favorite family games?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Origami Math, take 2

Here's a little more of our process as we follow up our interests. This research and sharing goes during the day, between playing, practicing, laundry, etc... (notice how it's morphed)

Hey! This MIT tenured professor, an origami mathematician, was home schooled. How cool is that?

Following some links we found TreeMaker on Robert Lang's website. If you want to try it yourself, scroll down the Treemaker site to find the free downloads. He gives you access to the source code, if you are interested in playing with/modifying the program itself.

My 11 yo spends a few minutes playing with the newly downloaded TreeMaker while his younger brothers look on. He's intrigued, but the LEGOs call, and he also wants to use GameMaker to program.

Later, my husband and 11yo play with TreeMaker some more. It's neat that my son was learning about "lines of symmetry" in his Life of Fred book and then it comes up again in origami. They print out something to fold. It takes them a while to figure out the meaning of the fold lines, but they end up with something with 5 flaps that could be turned into an animal or person. Cool!

Grr.... The PBS show I wanted isn't showing on the one station we get here. (We don't have cable or satellite TV) The library doesn't have it. .... Ha! I found "Independent Lens, Between the Folds" at Netflix. Yea me!

Random: A fellow homeschooler posted to my local group this link to Box Car and One Eyed Jack games to teach math. Nothing to to with origami, but I bet the kids would enjoy some of these.

I discover Math Mansion and find a couple of videos on line. I let the kids watch them on my lap top while I brush my teeth this morning. 8 and 5 year old love it, 11 yo isn't impressed.

Anyway, you get the idea. One idea leads into another. I share what I find with the kids. Eventually something sparks their interest and they follow that until they're done. The amazing thing to me, after having been the student who promptly forgotten content as soon as the test was done, is that the kids remember this stuff ages later. What they learn having fun, exploring, and investigating for themselves, they remember. They OWN that stuff.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Visual games/toys

Cindy of "Apple Stars" categorizes Right Brained learners in to types.
All of my boys seem to have some "builder" type traits. Here are some wonderful distractions that they have enjoyed and that I think other builder/visual learners would like.

Fractiles, magnetic tiles that fit together on a magnetic board to make beautiful, interesting, and mathematical patterns. Art worthy, but has small edible-sized tiles.

We bought Zome Tool before we even had children. It is rods and balls that fit together to make shapes intriguing and, alas, fragile. Warning, these are addictive. You'll need more than one set if you want your kids to share with you. Also, it has small parts, so if your toddler or dog eats small bits, you'll want to be careful.

Puzzellations, magnetic backed foam shapes that tile to make patterns.

LEGO Create-it, a board game that apparently isn't being made anymore, so now I'll describe it and you can decide if it's worth making it. There are several cards with parts illustrated and instructions to make a small vehicle. Each person gets a card. Turns are taken and dice rolled to move around a board and determine number (if any) and color of lego pieces that make be acquired each turn. When you have all your parts, build! Hmm.... never mind, just give the kids some dice and the LEGOs and see what happens.

Blokus, tiles shaped a little like pentominos. This is fun played according to the rules, with your own made up rules, or just to make pretty designs.

Tessera, the perpetual puzzle, another one we got to play with before the kids grew into them. Our set is sturdy and elegant. I wish we'd bought more. With 3 kids we don't have enough for everyone to use at once, and I haven't seen any exactly like them for several years.

And, on the anti-recommend list is a recent thrift store find, Lost in a Jigsaw II. This is a 515 piece jigsaw puzzle with every piece fitting every other piece. AND the picture is such that it can be put together wrong and still look fine from a distance! We are ripping out our hair. My eyeballs are bleeding. I think I'll regift it to a puzzle loving in-law. :-D

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Origami Math

I've had a lot of people ask me about my approach to homeschooling. I thought today I'd walk you through how we approach a topic. I'm writing this as I do it, popping back and forth between tabs on my laptop.

Yesterday at a song circle, a friend was talking about a great PBS show she saw. I forget what it was called, but I remember it had origami, math, a young prof from MIT .... Enter google. (I LOVE the web!) I google some key words and find this "The Independent Lens, Between the Folds". This looks like what she was talking about, so I make a note of when I might find it airing on our local PBS station. Hmm.... wonder if the library has it? Check. Nope. Shrug.

Got some interesting hits with my initial search. I'll go check them out.
Oooh! Here's a cool TED talk with Robert Lang. The kids will love that. Here's a follow up video. Amazing. I don't know what I liked better, the blind folded guy doing the intricate origami, or the cellist with the custom 5 string electric cello.

Well, actually I do know. Cello. Hands down. What was that!?! I see if the library has any of his CDs. Checking. No, they don't. Hmm, usually I have better luck getting stuff at the library... I'll think about inter-library loan. I will have to spend some time find his stuff later. OK, back to the origami math.

Tons of hits, pictures, blogs, ideas, more ideas, when I google "origami math". I look at a few, and bookmark any that look promising. (Using folders under "homeschool/ideas/resources/math, it's important to bookmark things into sorted folders if you're me, otherwise you'll never find them again in the pile of unsorted bookmarks that represent my online life)

OK, now I need to go to bed. Tomorrow we have an at home day and I'll show the kids the video. Note to self, be prepared to find the origami paper and books, maybe explore how exactly one would program a computer to help you design the folds, and if any of the programming and math are within the reach of a bright 8-11 year old.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How to start with First LEGO League (LEGO robotics)

My oldest has been on an FLL team for the last 3 seasons (10 weeks, Sept. - Nov.). It's been a wonderful experience for him. I coached his team this last year, and was assistant coach the year before that. I can tell you that coaching is a lot of work, especially as a homeschooling parent with 2 kids too young to be on the team. With the help of the other parents on the team though, we were able to make it work.

It was so worth the effort! FLL teaches so much. I could rave on, but I'll save that for another post. :-) For now, here are some places to gather your own info.

First, just get some information about the First Lego League. Poke around their website.
Check out the "start a team" link.
Check out this year's challenge.
If it's tournament season, check out some local events.
If you have just a day to spare and want to see what a tournament is really about, volunteer to help at a local tournament.
If nothing else, check out some of the great FLL and LEGO robotic videos on youtube.