Monday, March 31

A Secular Homeschooler's Experience

Wahoo for some good press in the Washington Post! A couple excerpts...
Studies have shown that home-schooled children outperform the conventionally schooled not only on standardized academic tests but also on tests of social skills. This, I believe, isn't because home-schoolers do things better than schools do them but because we do better things than schools do.
Admissions officers at IUPUI, a joint-venture urban campus of Indiana University and Purdue, and at Georgia's Kennesaw State University, have tracked the performance of admitted home-schoolers and found that they earn higher GPAs than the general student population. Associate Dean Joyce Reed of Brown University has called home-schoolers "the epitome of Brown students," telling the university's alumni magazine that "they are self-directed, they take risks, and they don't back off." Admissions officers at other highly selective colleges, such as Swarthmore and Stanford, have made similar statements.
The whole thing is here.

Tuesday, March 25

"Lower Your Expectations, Raise Your Satisfaction"

At a friend's baby shower recently we joked about this phrase. (She actually heard a whole sermon on it once.) So when she said she is expecting her baby about a week after he's due in order to keep from feeling frustrated if he's late, we tossed this phrase back at her and laughed. Lower Your Expectations, Raise Your Satisfaction !

I actually use this technique when parenting. I have one particular child who struggles with following directions. So, rather than expect him to respond at the first request I have to change my expectation to 10,000 requests. If I have to ask him 10,000 times it is okay. I can't get frustrated or angry I just keep on getting his attention and asking again... and again. It's not what some of my Christian friends would call good parenting, but for this child it's better than him feeling my wrath every time he fails to respond immediately. Lower Your Expectations, Raise Your Satisfaction!

For these next couple of weeks we are pouring it on academically. We had a full week this past week and we've got another one coming. J is learning oral storytelling (and knocking my socks off), metaphor / similes, fractions, taking comprehension reading tests daily, and he and B are both working on a nature notebook (which takes an hour) and then they are making lapbooks about native plants and local crops (which can take another hour). And that's not their entire day! So, during this season, I had to step back and say, "We will work on school until 5:00. We will not be done by 2:00 as we usually are. We will not be done before lunch as we sometimes are. We will just be finishing up when it's time to make dinner." So, see -- I lowered my expectation of making quick work of the learning process and I am not hearing myself whine (oh yes, it happens) when they take all day to finish the projects. And I'm okay with it. Lower Your Expectations, Raise Your Satisfaction!

See, Kobie. It's working for me. :-)

Sunday, March 23

Back Into It Again

We begin the last 10 weeks of our school year tomorrow after a two week break. This next unit will take up five of them. I think I have the next two weeks (agriculture and plants) hammered out pretty will with the following three (money and stewardship) in good shape as well. Here's the next two.

Bible Together: Parables of Jesus (he told a lot of stories having to do with agriculture and a lot having to do with money and so that is what this unit will be about) Parables of the sower, the weeds, the mustard seed and leven, growing seed, fig trees and workers in the vineyard.

Science (and the words/concepts to introduce to J):
  • Roots (primary, secondary, fibrous)
  • Stems (monoctyledon, dicocotyledon, epidermis, cortex, phloem, xylem, pith, bark, cambium, runners, tubers, bulbs)
  • Leaves (parallel-veined, net-veined, needles v. scales, stomata, mesophyll)
  • Photosynthesis (chlorophyll and glucose)
  • Flowers (review -- sepals, petals, stamen, pistil, filament, anther, pollen, stigma)
  • Seeds (angiosperm, gymnosperm, cotyledon)
Do nature walks as we can.
Discuss creation care ("A steward only has responsibilities, not rights").
Review biomes and ecosystems and perhaps build a terrarium.
Work in a nature journal each day. Practice drawing what you see.

Math J: Begin Complex Fractions
Math B: Begin First Grade Book (skip the first 29 lessons of review).

Stations -- J: Penmanship (continue Horizons cursive), Language Arts (Practice the craft of oral storytelling), Reading (to mix it up a little he'll read various advanced "picture books" containing stories and information centered on agricultural themes and take a comprehension "quiz" each day), Memory Verse (Psalm 1:1-3 "...he is like a tree planted by a stream of water..."), Vocabulary Activities (primary, secondary, vein, glucose, photosynthesis, flower, parable, forest, agriculture, native), Topical Study (Make a lapbook of the plants and agriculture of either Washington or Oregon -- since we live in both states).

Stations -- B: Creative Drawing (works on his Nature notebook), Phonics (Spectrum Grade 1 workpages...ending blends), Reading (Continue lessons in Phonics for the New Reader and begin set four of the phonics readers by Innovative Kids), Memory Verse (same as J), Vocabulary Activities (tree, crop, land, root, stem, make, draw, bark, seed, weed), Topical Study (same as J on a lesser scale).

Field Trip: Either to the Washington Park Arboretum or the World Forestry Center.

Planning Ahead: If you have suggestions for a good chapter book (5th grade level and above) having something to do with the wise use of money, I'd love to check it out. I'm also on the lookout for a good video that might teach us how to draw/paint trees next week.

Wednesday, March 19

My Secret Weapon Against Burn Out


C'mon we do it at Christmastime (some of you take even more than two weeks!). Why not do it in the spring?

I tell you, it's the best thing EVER. I stumbled upon the idea a couple years ago when I just couldn't get everything done in one week. ("get everything done" -- yeah, it's really only a break for the kids) And it has become the one break I really look forward to.

No Christmas presents to wrap or shopping to finish or things to print and fold and stamp and mail. BUT there's some serious cleaning going on and lots of planning for the rest of the year. And if the weather here hadn't turned sour, there would have been a daily nature walk with the boys.

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter... nothing gets overlooked this way. In fact, this year we began our break last week and we're ending with Easter (as opposed to beginning with Holy Week) and I'm kind of likin' it. Lovin' it.

I took my older kids to see a theater production of "Go Dog, Go" today. It was seriously great. I had read that they didn't really add any words to the book (if you've read it you're scratching your head like I was). And they didn't! Lots of improvisational-type singing, purposeful movements, cool colorful costumes. A great way to show them the theater.

Off to see what all the noise is about downstairs...

Thursday, March 13

As Promised

A couple gems from B, my 6 year old.

This is what he saw when looking under a microscope at a National Geographic trading card of a penguin. It is a very, very good rendition of all the color dot processing that our eyes don't actually "see." He was pretty meticulous about this project.

And then there's the stick figures. I do try to encourage him to flesh out his pictures a little more and I actually asked him to go back and redo this one. We were talking about Jesus healing the paralytic on this day and he was supposed to draw a picture of someone who might need some physical help. He drew the two stick figures. I said, "But I can't tell what he needs help with." To wit he goes back and adds the snot running out of the nose of one and the tissue in the hand of the other. Seriously, I forget what I laughed at before I had kids.

Emergent Homeschool #3

{See my prior posts in this brief series for my atypical rationale as to why I'm using this book, which is totally unrelated to homeschooling, to influence my now-public philosophy on how I missionally teach my children at home.}

We've used the word contextualtization in church ministry settings over and over and we argued for and against it in seminary again and again. But I think it absolutely applies in the educational world as well. Here is the definition of contextualize from dictionary. com:
–verb (used with object), -ized, -iz·ing.
to put (a linguistic element, an action, etc.) in a context, esp. one that is characteristic or appropriate, as for purposes of study.
Also, especially British, con·tex·tu·al·ise.
Origin: 1930–35; contextual + -ize
con·tex·tu·al·i·za·tion, noun
2008, from website:
In essence it is the idea that we can keep the message the same even when we must deliver it via different methods to different people groups. The book uses this simple definition,
"relating effectively to the needs, concerns, and interests (material, political and otherwise) of the people to whom we are ministering." The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, p 83.
In my perspective, we've rounded this corner in church ministry, but I'm seeing contextualization used more and more in schools as well. In the educational world there is macro-contextualization (such as when a class of like-wired learners engages in a message in a way that is different from the next class of like-wired learners) and there is micro-contextualization (delivering a message to an individual learner based on his or her learning style -- how they best take in information). In homeschooling we deal with micro-contextualization.

In sharing the story of Jesus with someone we need to take into account all of their prior experience and knowledge in order to help His story connect with their own. Naturally, in our home teaching we have the freedom to infuse the content with our spiritual worldview, but we (I) have to be sensitive to our (my) students and realize that children have a "still-developing" worldview. For instance, one of my children is totally on board with Jesus, the other is not. So, as I teach I point out proofs because that speaks to my unbeliever, and I point out blessings because it speaks to my young believer.

Contextualization works for non-gospel messages as well. Academics can be contextualized. The facts remain the same, but we use changing methods. I use two different math curricula for my two sons as a way of relating to their interests and needs: one needed hands-on learning with less distraction on the page, the other needed a feeling of accomplishment and constant review (spiral learning). So, I have taught them both to add, but in very different ways.

Children are natural learners and yet the knowledge they obtain must be appropriate for their developmental stage. Those who are committed to reading aloud to their kids know that when we do so, we introduce them to places and experiences that their life path won't take them to. That way when they do learn about arctic explorers they know a bit about the barriers in that environment even though they live in Yuma, Arizona and have never experienced it themselves. We read aloud to provide them with context.
"...context is the stage where all comprehension takes place. 'It is the reality that ties together and therefore shapes all knowledge...' " ibid, p.87
If they have no context to refer to, they cannot grasp the new knowledge.

Education is a constant putting down of layer upon layer. The lower grades are all about introduction, they are not about making our children into trivia champions. We are layering for future learning. Once a child, for instance, understands that there are different types of plants then they can learn the parts of each one. Once they master that they can learn about the food chain and later the symbiosis between green living things and human living beings. Only then can they grasp the vast importance of agriculture, food supply, conservation and other related higher thinking. It's all about their first years, their first layer of introduction. Once the foundation is there we build upon it and in their higher grades they experience the meaning in new contexts.

We make an assumption when we school at home. We assume that we are helping this child take off on a life long journey of learning. We assume that we are not the end-of-the-line when it comes to knowledge. We are simply laying down the layers as it is appropriate for each child. They will take over their learning process gradually. If they do, then they will not likely abandon it at graduation because we have spoken to them in their immediate context, sped up the experience or slowed it down, related the information visually/ auditorally/ kinesthetically/ tactally. We've said, "Remember when we learned about...?" or "Remember when our family did..." and in so doing we've given them an unfailing foundation for what is yet to come.

We didn't treat them like cookie cutters, label them, pressure them to perform, or overlook them. We performed our task of educating with the whole child in mind -- his traditions and schedules, tendencies and personality, friendships and family connections, likes and dislikes, fears and aspirations, hurdles and victories, abilities and opportunities, nature and nuturing -- it's all a part of his context into which we speak all the words of life and Life.

Tuesday, March 11

Emergent Homeschool #2

"The missional-incarnational church is well aware of the importance of the web of relationships, friendships, and acquaintances for mission...Accepting others, whether Christian or not, is imperative." The Shaping of Things to Come by Frost and Hirsch, pg. 47.
This is the tip of an iceberg called socialization. In our family we strive to be missional and that means we realize that life is not all about us. That we are not creating our own Andersonian Universe within our walls. We are trying to live outside the walls, stop and take time for others, and find ways to intentionally invite others to be with us. Homesteading is not the way of our life. (There's an entirely different blog ring for Homesteading Homeschoolers).

We do not seek to be an island, but an inlet. We are not "an isolated, somewhat alien body in the midst of a people." Some (and I emphasize SOME not MOST) other homeschoolers may subscribe to the isolation philosophy, but I tell you what I see. I see over 300 homeschooling families taking part in a communal teaching opportunity each Friday morning just in Vancouver alone. I see many of them interacting, encouraging, and making suggestions to one another on our forum. I see us reaching out for each other, and more and more reaching out TO others as we seek to show our kids what it means to be salt and light in this world. We are not all missionally minded, but more and more shared connection is becoming an integral part of not just this homeschool experience, but THE homeschool experience.

It's not all about homemade bread, goat's milk and McGuffee readers. It's about infusing the way we learn with learning the importance of why we are learning it in the first love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

Show and Tell

You find all kinds of things as you go back through the work your kids have done for the past three months (that’s how far behind I was in organizing their stuff). Personal notes from your kindergartener, vocabulary cards chewed by the toddler, hard pencil scratches and scribbles by a frustrated fourth grader. But mostly what you find is a whole lot of effort and a whole lot of progress. And you also notice and make note of the gaps that you need to fill in during the last 10 weeks of the year. (Yep, we're starting to count down already!)

I had to share a couple of my favorites from my filing today. These are all from my fourth grader’s pile o work. I’ll share some of B’s work another day this week.

This is a flag he created to represent the country of Narnia. We looked at flags from other countries to see that they are symbolic and symplistic. So, he infused it with symbolism and I am proud of him for doing it so well. The triangles are Aslan's teeth, the birds are the four thrones and the colors all mean something too. But I am also pleased because no where on this flag is there a tiny stick man falling to his death or impaling a second stick man. Even though the battle scene in the book would have made these additions totally appropriate he determined on his own that these typical inclusions wouldn't have worked for this particular project.
Speaking of stick men...this is a memory verse technique they enjoy in which they draw parts of the verse. It says, "Draw the four things this verse says to remember." The four things are...the wonderful things He has done...His He judged our enemies... and what He has done for you people of Jacob. I hope you can see some of these stick figure details... the ghostly "God" hand, happy dancing and big WOW eyes! It cracks me up! I love his happy interpretation.

This was a make-your-own-word search he did online and it included a secret message...which is what the first 12 letters actually make. Straight out of his own heart. It is a secret message I will cherish always in mine.

So, I made good progress in my stack today and moved into planning our last two units of study: Parables of Jesus (which entail a lot of thinking about agriculture and then also money) and Footsteps of the Messiah (geography and geology). J has just enough math to take him to the end with some breathing room (fractions are up next). B will plow ahead into his first grade math book when we start back again. And somewhere in there J needs to write a real report too.... how many weeks are there? No winding down here. We have a lot to cover yet!

Monday, March 10

Hello, Spring Break

It's spring break at our house! Of course, it's not spring break for anyone else, and my kids will be plugging away at schoolish things when the neighborhood kids are banging on the door in a couple weeks wanting to play. But it was a natural break in our curriculum. We always take two weeks off at Easter time it's just that we usually begin with Holy Week. However, this gives me time to figure out just what our family will finally do to celebrate and worship during Holy Week. I've been wanting to do something for years.

So, in your comment this week, tell me what your ideas are for Holy Week. I need something for each day...

Other than that, I think I'll post some musings about homeschooling philosophy in general. A couple ideas come to mind.

Off to tackle piles of school-work-past that needs a home. And I'm going to look for some field trips. I hear the zoo is doing something tomorrow...

Saturday, March 8

Emergent Homeschool #1

I’m reading through The Shaping of Things to Come slowly, bites at a time. It’s packed with good, good stuff. Stuff I’ve been believing and talking about and seeking out for the past six years. Stuff I’ve completely ruined altered my life over in order to take part in. As a Christ follower, it’s full of the stuff that I breathe. But I’m trying to read it through the eyes of a homeschooling mom.

It’s obvious this isn’t the perspective that the authors intended their audience to have. But one of the tenants that sent my husband and I on our present journey is to be a part of a 7-day a week church… to be the church and not go to it. You know?

So, if I’m the church every day of the week, what does that mean for my home schooling? It should have a tremendous effect. In fact, I would venture to say that Christ-centered, missional schooling at home should not at all look like schooling in a classroom. It should look more like touching the lives of others and being flexible in scheduling and curriculum. And yet at the end of the day we need to be able to say we can read and write and do math.

The three principles for the missional church are to be incarnational, messianic and apostolic. Seriously, I can’t draw direct parallels between the church and schooling at home in these terms. But there are ways to apply them.

The one thing I’m chewing on right now – because it’s the easiest – is the idea of being holistic rather than dualistic. There should be no dividing line between school time and regular time, you know? We can learn always. But I am totally guilty of wanted to “get school done” so we can get on with the rest of the day. What does it mean to “get school done” in this context though? Just cover the stuff on the S.A.T. and then we're done or merge purposefully from one idea to the next taking into consideration the needs of those both within and outside the walls of our house?

Similarly, the teaching approach needs to be holistic. And I think, in our home, it is. We do unit studies which means we integrate all the learning subjects into what we’re studying. We begin with Scripture (not saying it’s the first part of the day because it isn’t anymore) and we let where we’re going to be at in the Scripture launch us into a unit of study. For instance: We just did the Miracles of Jesus. Talked about all the different kinds of miracles (over distance, nature, disease, death), read the stories, thought about why he performed them and even memorized some scriptures. Then we moved into studies about matter, water, germs, the immune system, communicable diseases and non-communicable diseases, first aid, meeting needs, and death. We read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to see a miracle in a different context and added some activities to go along with our reading. We studied adjectives in an attempt to better describe miracles and J learned to interview someone about a miracle God did in their life (thanks Tarver!) and he wrote a feature article about it. Math was in there too, but that tends to stay on a steady path toward mastery and relating it to our subject, truthfully, doesn’t happen often.

To me this is a holistic approach to schooling. Teach to the whole child all the areas, show them WHY it’s important to know the Scripture, or know some scientific/geographic/historical/political details to help us better understand the Scripture. Conversely, show them something about the world and then what the Word says about that principle or a time when that principle is utilized in the Word. It’s all about connecting learning to life. And as much as I can involve the whole child in the process, then the more holistic our process becomes.

Anyway, lots to chew on. So, I’ll try to spit it out here from time to time. Feel free to rub off my rough edges for me.

Wednesday, March 5

Thus, the Title

So, there is another side to this blog… I just haven’t had the courage to voice it yet. But I did have the courage to articulate a little of it to my man today. So, just to let you know, there’s something percolating in here. It has something to do with this book

which I’m five years behind on reading, but now is the time. It’s helping me organize the stuff that’s been in my head for what seems like forever.

Aside from all that. We are observing a sick day today. And as I went off to an appointment, my husband decided that my sick kids needed to go with him to the skate park. I seem to remember my mother saying many times, “If you’re too sick to go to school, you’re too sick to play outside.” Maybe his mom never said that. Or maybe it’s just one more way in which we consistently break all the rules.