Archive for ‘Kindergarten’

July 30, 2013

The School of Ants

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, July 24, 2013.

This past school year, my son and I participated in the School of Ants project.  Any adult, child or classroom can participate in this fun, educational project, and by doing so, you can help scientists collect data on ants that live in urban areas.

When I told my six-year-old about the project, he couldn’t wait to do it. All we had to do was collect some ants in our yard and send them to North Carolina State University where the scientists identified the ants and labeled a U.S. map, which you can view on their website. If you live in Florida, you’ll send your specimens to Dr. Andrea Lucky’s lab at the University of Florida. She heads this whole project.

The School of Ants has already helped scientists identify an invasive Asian needle ant in samples from New York, Wisconsin and Washington.  Other rare species have been found too, such as the Bigfoot ant, which is North America’s rarest ant species. It had been discovered in the 1940s and never seen again until a North Carolina State University student found two of them under a rock outside his apartment. He took pictures of them and then released them, not knowing that they were so rare!

Though it’s easy to do the project, participants must make their own kit and pay for postage.  You’ll need 8 3×5 index cards, 1 pen, 2 Pecan Sandies cookies, 8 1-quart zip-lock bags, 1 1-gallon zip lock bag, and 1 envelope plus postage for submitting your kit.  You’ll also need to sacrifice some ants.

My son and I took four of the notecards and labeled them “green.” These had to go on a lawn, garden or forest about one foot apart. We left a quarter of a cookie on each card for one hour in the woods beside our house.

On the other four notecards, we wrote “paved.” These had to go on a paved surface for one hour, so we put those on our driveway.  After an hour, we were instructed to quickly dump the card, cookie and any ants we collected into a separate plastic bag.

The cards we left in the woods had plenty of ants on them, but the cards on the pavement only had a few tiny ants. They were just beginning to find the cookies.

We collected what we found and put all the baggies into one big gallon-size bag, and then put them into the freezer overnight. Supposedly, this is a humane way of killing the ants.

We had to fill out a small form, register our kit online and get a confirmation code, which we mailed with the ants.

When we did the project, I read that we would be e-mailed within a few weeks about our ants. We never received an e-mail, and it took several months, but we finally found our ants listed on the School of Ants website.  According to their site, we found three different species. The two in the woods were common ants, but the tiny ants in our driveway were not so common, so there’s not much known about them. Pretty cool, huh?

I asked my son if he’d like to try to find those ants again and observe them for a while. Perhaps we can make a small contribution to science. My son was excited about that, so maybe we’ll try it. That is, if we can find them again.

If you’d like to participate in the School of Ants project, go to www.schoolofants.org to get detailed instructions and additional information.

Come back on Thursday when I post a letter from the School of Ants answering my question, “Why is it important to study ants?”

July 18, 2013

Protected: Kindergarten Slideshow – Private Post

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July 11, 2013

2nd Generation Butterflies

{Raising Painted Lady Butterflies} {Butterfly Life Cycle}

A. 2nd generation butterflies

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on June 26, 2013.

If you read my column regularly, you may recall that we raised Painted Lady butterflies this spring. We ordered the larvae from an online company and watched them grow, pupate and emerge into adult butterflies. Then we got the crazy idea to keep the butterflies, watch them mate, lay eggs, and raise a second generation.

I had visions of my house being invaded by tiny caterpillars, but I persevered thinking that at any time, I could throw the whole thing outside. I thought we’d just try it and see what happens.

We kept our first generation in our butterfly habitat, a roomy mesh cage about the size of an aquarium.  Four out of six larvae made it to maturity, and when we observed them mating, we figured out only one of them was a female. She may have been overworked, but she was determined to carry on life, and she laid dozens of eggs on a small hollyhock plant that I had dug up and potted from my yard so that I could put it down into the cage.

Butterflies don’t live very long after they mate, so when we released our first generation, I’m not sure how much time they had left. For one, it was real quick – before it reached the tree in our front yard a bird came out of nowhere and snatched it up. My husband and I weren’t sure whether to laugh or cry. We were all sad, but fortunately, my six-year-old “little biologist” understands how nature works. My three-year-old didn’t seem to notice.

There are a few plants that Painted Lady butterflies will feed on, including hollyhock, and by sheer luck I had some growing in my yard because I had received the seeds for a present. The female butterfly will only lay her eggs on these plants so that once the larvae hatch, they can start eating right away.

The eggs are smaller than the point of a pin, and they’re a beautiful aqua blue with vertical lines that look like the longitude lines on a globe. We looked at them twice under a microscope. I had read that you can see the tiny caterpillars inside them, but we never observed that.

The eggs were tiny and scattered over the leaves of the hollyhock, so I’m not sure how many there were. I decided to put the plant on our front porch to avoid an “invasion,” but I left it in the mesh cage to protect it from predators. After about a week and a half, we found the tiniest caterpillars you can imagine wiggling on the plant leaves. They were less than a millimeter in length.

At this point, we clipped the leaves with the caterpillars and put them into a big mason jar. We covered it with a coffee filter and secured it with a rubber band. Punching holes into the filter is not necessary because the caterpillars don’t need a lot of air – the filter lets in enough. We added a fresh leaf from our hollyhock plants every other day.

Then we watched them grow and grow and grow. And eat and eat and eat. And poop and poop and poop. This is the life of a caterpillar. After six days, they were the size of our first generation when we received them in the mail. They moved so fast that I never bothered to get an accurate count, but I know we had at least 24 of them.

When they got a little bigger, we let some of them go in our garden, and I wished them well.  I feared we wouldn’t have enough hollyhock to continue feeding all of them.

We kept 16 and divided them into four big mason jars to give them extra space. Of those, only ten of them survived to the pupa stage. All of them emerged or “eclosed” into adult butterflies, but, sadly, one of them was not fully formed.

2nd gen butterflies!-2

The most troubling part of the whole process, however, was discovering that one of the butterflies went missing from our cage.  Did they push open the cover? Did our cat get it? Did the three-year-old open the cage when we weren’t looking? Was I going to find a dead butterfly while vacuuming under the sofa?  I was baffled.

It was even more troubling the next day when two more went missing, so we immediately took them outside to release them, only two days after they eclosed and while we were still waiting on two more to emerge.  Luckily the case of the missing butterflies was solved when I lifted the paper towel from the bottom of the cage – three of them had crawled into the folds of the towel, and luckily they were healthy and strong and flew away as soon as I released them.

After that, it wasn’t long before the last healthy butterfly was born, and we discovered that last one was not healthy enough to fly away.  We released the healthy one, and the other rests in peace.

Raising the butterflies from eggs to adult and witnessing the entire life cycle was a wonderful experience for my whole family. It showed us how fragile and beautiful life is, and while trying to help the butterfly with miniature wings, I thought of a line in my favorite poem by Mary Oliver.  “Life is infinitely inventive,” she writes.

We hope some of them survive and are creating a third generation right here in Barrow County.

***

I hope you enjoy the following gallery of the butterfly life cycle! Click on an image to enlarge. To view a slideshow of the cycle of our first generation of butterflies, click here: Raising Butterflies

May 9, 2013

Raising Butterflies

Scroll down for a slideshow of our butterfly’s life cycle!

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 8, 2013.

Last year we raised toads from tadpoles, and this year we’re raising butterflies. This is surprisingly easy to do, and I’d encourage any family to give it a try.  It’s a wonderful experience for children and adults.

My sons received the Backyard Safari Butterfly Habitat as a Christmas present, but you can find other companies who sell butterfly habitats and the larvae online. The cages are around $15. The Backyard Safari Habitat came with a coupon so that we could order the larvae when we were ready for them. You need to wait for warm weather, if you plan to release the butterflies. (The larvae were approximately $10 with the coupon, but they are under $20 without it.)

We received six Painted Lady larvae (or caterpillars) in a small container with everything they needed to survive during this second stage of their life cycle. There were explicit instructions to not open the container. All we needed to do was set the container by a window (but not in direct sunlight). Note: I have read different opinions about leaving them in the container, so I suggest you do some of your own research.

Painted Lady Butterflies live almost everywhere, which is why they are often used in schools and homes for this purpose. In most places it’s okay to release them back into the environment. Another option is to find butterfly larvae in your local area and raise them, but each species has different needs, so you have to make sure you have the right food source.

We watched our caterpillars for less than two weeks as they stirred up the food, spun silk, and proved to be extremely bad housekeepers. When we got them, they were less than a centimeter in length, and in two days, they doubled their size. Right before they formed themselves into a chrysalis (or pupa), they were about an inch long and quite plump.

After the butterflies emerged, my son turned this into a project by making a model of the Painted Lady Butterfly! He studied it like a real artist!

According to the instructions I received, the caterpillars were supposed to climb to the top of the vial and attach themselves to the gauze that was placed under the lid of the container. There they would hang down and form into chrysalides, and then we weren’t allowed to disturb the container for two days. After that time, we could carefully remove the lid, and then pin the gauze with the chrysalides near the bottom and on the wall of the cage.

This is what really happened: The caterpillars made a huge mess in the container, and we couldn’t see through it very well. All of the caterpillars crawled to the top, but most of them didn’t stay there. In the end, there were only two caterpillars that formed chrysalides and hung from the top. We could barely make out one chrysalis on the bottom, and since there wasn’t any movement, I assumed the others down there were changing too.

Per the instructions, we waited two full days after the last caterpillar we could see formed his chrysalis. Finally we got out the butterfly cage, and found a small branch that fit nicely into it. Then I removed the lid to the container, and we discovered that the caterpillars had eaten most of the gauze! The two chrysalides were hanging from silk and the plastic lid. Luckily I managed to fit it over the twigs in the cage so that they hung down safely.

I had to scoop out the four other chrysalides from the bottom of the container with a spoon, and I laid them gently on the bottom of our cage. We had read that this can happen, and they should be okay, but unfortunately, two of these never formed into butterflies. We weren’t surprised.

After only five days, two of our butterflies emerged!  Two more butterflies emerged in the next few days.  They are beautiful, small orange and black butterflies, and we’re feeding them watermelon and oranges.

The whole process has enamored my six-year-old, and he wants to keep going, so we’re going to attempt to raise a second generation. Yep, call me crazy. If it turns into a good story, and I’m pretty sure it will, I’ll be sure to share it with you. Note: Yes, indeed, it’s turning into a story, and I will share it with you!

Below is a slideshow I created to show you our experience, and you can see the life cycle here too!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Notes you may be interested in:

  • The butterfly’s life cycle is in four stages: egg, larvae (or caterpillar), chrysalis, adult butterfly.  (I highly recommend the simple app Life Cycles by nthfusion.com to help with learning about nature’s cycles!)
  • The plural for chrysalis can be either chrysalides or chrysalises. (You can go here to hear the pronunciations.)
  • The word eclose is a verb which means to emerge from the pupa as an adult or from an egg as a larvae.
  • The red liquid that drips out off the butterfly after it emerges is meconium or the waste that was secreted while it was in chrysalis.
  • After the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, it can live for about two weeks. During that time, they seek a mate, and the female seeks a host plant to lay her eggs.

If you like this, you might enjoy the slideshow I made of our tadpoles to toads last year.

Have you raised butterflies? Please share your experience!

April 14, 2013

The Little Projects: Project-based Homeschooling

{A.K.A. I don’t plan any crafts in this house.} {In between projects} {Exploring mediums}

I’ve written about what I’ve considered our “project-based homeschooling” in terms of long projects in which my son learned about a specific topic and also spent some considerable time constructing something, such as in Building the Titanic and Rockets and the Benefits of Failure. But to tell the truth, he spends most of his time doing what I think of as “little projects.” That is, they are projects he has come up with on his own, but they aren’t tied to what I consider a long-term study project. Not that they couldn’t become that, and in a way, you could consider some of what he’s doing long-term study in that he’s learning some skills such as sewing.

For me, this is what homeschooling is all about. I want my children’s imaginations to be unfettered. I want them to have fun. I don’t want them to be told what they can or can’t do. I want them to have the time and the resources (to the best of my ability) to develop their imaginations and real, quality skills along the way!

I’ve already written about how my boys love to build. You can read about many of the building and art supplies we keep on hand and ideas my son “found” last year in Boys Like to Build. You can read about the benefits of building with Legos or blocks in Little Builders.

Here, I want to show you examples of other projects. For lack of a better term, they’re kind of “artsy.” How did he come up with these ideas? Many different ways:

  • He “finds” ideas in television shows, such as Blues Clues, or he happens to find an idea in a book or on a pamphlet at Hobby Lobby, and he tells me he wants to make it.
  • Some ideas are from pure imagination.
  • Some ideas I lead him to. Occasionally I’ll see something online that I think he might like or could easily do, and I show it to him. If he likes it, he wants to make it.
  • For holiday craft ideas, I don’t plan anything. I let my son google “Easter crafts,” and then we look at the zillion of images and he picks what he likes!
  • Most artwork comes from just playing with different mediums. I keep all art supplies out where the kids can reach them at any time. Here’s a short list of what we’ve got:
    • paints, brushes
    • construction paper
    • markers, crayons, pens, pencils
    • glue, tape
    • lots of fun stuff such as sequins, pom poms, little wooden cubes, etc.
    • modeling clay
    • recently added: watercolor pencils and watercolor paper!
    • sewing stuff: fabric, felt, fabric scissors, craft thread, needles (but the needles are kept in a safer place)

We have one section of the wall in our kitchen that is our “art gallery.”

I am the “YES” Mom.

Part of “project-based homeschooling” is creating an environment where supplies are on hand and easily accessible to my children. From the time my son was three- or four-years-old, I’ve been doing simple art with him – nothing stressful for me and nothing that needed a lot of pre-planning. For example, when he was two and three, he just liked to cut paper, so I turned his paper bits into animals. We did that for the longest time, and sometimes my boys will still ask me to make them a paper animal!

We have a routine, and there are things that I require of my children, but I try very hard to always say “Yes! Go ahead!” whenever they want to paint, draw or create something. It doesn’t have to be a certain time of day – I just let them do it. The only time that I may say no is when it’s, say, fifteen minutes before our evening routine begins, and someone wants to pull all the paints out. Then I’ll say, “Well, you’re going to need to get your bath in a few minutes, so why don’t we plan to paint tomorrow?” But if it’s crayons or markers, I’d probably be inclined to say “Go ahead!” even at that time.

My kids don’t “create” everyday or every week, but looking at all the pieces of artwork in the house, I know that they’ve had a lot of fun and freedom. It does make for a messy house, and even though I always make the boys clean up after themselves, there’s still a lot of mess left over waiting for me to pick it up. (And it can just keep waiting.) I’ll be writing about this “chaos” and our messy but productive environment in upcoming posts.

Art Lessons

It’s always in the back of my mind to get a little more formal with the art. Show them different mediums, artists, and styles. I’m really looking forward to reading more of Amy Hood’s amy hood arts blog for ideas on teaching art to my children. But right now I can hardly keep up with my son’s ideas, so for awhile, we’ll just go with his ideas.

Here’s a few of his self-made projects:

Making a bed for one of his stuffed animals. He used a box, fabric & a glue gun. He’s never felt the need to paint the boxes or add embellishes.

Making an alien puppet. This idea came to him after we made the dinosaur puppets below.

Here it is!

I saw the dinosaur & rocket puppets online & thought they’d be easy to make. The six-year-old made the one in the middle. We both worked on the green one. I made the one on the right.

The rocket puppet. I cut out the pattern & the six-year-old sewed it.

I started this lizard for a Christmas gift, but I don’t have the patience my son has, so he had to finish it for me. ;o

Our Thanksgiving wreath. Idea given to us by a friend. (Once my six-year-old hears good ideas, there’s no stopping him.)

My six-year-old found this pamphlet with instructions on how to make a lion puppet at Hobby Lobby. He bugged me for months to make it, and we finally did. The instructions were not good, by the way, so I had to improvise on some of it. I helped with the sewing/cutting on this, but the six-year-old did a lot of it!

Nature art. My six-year-old did this all by himself. He got the idea after seeing some similar artwork at the Botanical Garden.

Clay is a huge hit with my boys! My six-year-old watched this tutorial on how to make this car.

This tree was his idea.

I’m really impressed with how my son has taken up sewing. (I don’t sew.) He saw this snake fabric at the store, and he said he’d make a snake with it. And he did! I helped, but it was all his idea, and he was very fussy about how it needed to be done.

Every day my son carries some little toy around the house all day, and at night, he puts it to “sleep” on his nightstand. One day he had the idea to make a bed for his toys! I didn’t even know what he was doing until he was almost done. 

I can’t forget the three-year-old! He LOVES to paint, cut paper, glue, build with blocks, make pretend food, paste things into his “notebook,” and create different things too. At Christmas, I got him these little wooden cubes and sticks. I let him make all the messes he wants to. (This picture was taken the day after Christmas, which is why there’s a lot of odd stuff in the room.)

The three-year-old doesn’t have the motor skills to make things like my six-year-old, but he’s often creating interesting things with blocks or cards or anything he can stack.

The three-year-old made this flower face with some wooden shapes. I think the six-year-old had showed him how to do this once.

The Benefits

I know there are more benefits to living this lifestyle than I’m even aware of, but I do feel confident to say that my boys are developing their imaginations, self-esteem, fine motor skills, problem-solving skills, and a general awareness of how things work. By experimenting, they are learning how things work together, and learning how to deal with the frustrations that come with trial and error. I try my best not to interfere with how they plan out their work unless they ask for my help or get very stuck. I can hardly wait to see what they come up with next!

Note: I have noticed that in most of my photographs, especially these, my boys are in pajamas. Ahem. Just so you know, I do dress my boys! But with that thought, I’ll leave you with this quote:

Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.  ~Lewis Carroll

Please share your children’s artwork with me!

March 29, 2013

How to Make a Terrarium

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on March 27, 2013.

If you’re eager to plant some greenery, but you’re still waiting for the threat of frost to pass, you might enjoy making a terrarium for inside the house. My plant-loving six-year-old found instructions in First Nature Activity Book by DK Publishing, and he asked if we could make one. I didn’t see why not.

Luckily for me, it’s fairly simple to make.  Here’s what you need: a clear container with a wide neck and an air-tight cover, small pebbles, charcoal, peat-based potting soil, small ferns, different types of moss, lichen-covered twigs or bark.

We had the charcoal, and we had plenty of moss, lichen and small ferns growing in shady spots in our yard, but we didn’t have the other ingredients. At the garden store, I bought a bag of pebbles and the peat-based potting soil. At the pet store, I found a medium-sized Kritter Keeper, and I lined the top with cellophane to make it airtight. A decorative glass container would be prettier but more expensive, or you could easily use an old aquarium.

When you let the kids do the work, they have fun cleaning up after themselves. (Sometimes.)

First, line the bottom of the container with enough pebbles to cover it evenly.  The pebbles are there for drainage. Next, add a layer of charcoal. We put in a fairly thin layer, but we covered the pebbles completely and evenly.

This is not the way I recommend you put in the charcoal. By pouring it in, it covered the walls with black soot and we had to clean them. Just be more careful.

My six-year-old had fun when I put some pieces of charcoal in a baggie and let him pound them on the sidewalk with a hammer to break them into tiny pieces.  The charcoal is supposed to act as a filter, keeping the terrarium smelling good. I have read different opinions online about whether it’s needed or not, but for a closed terrarium, it’s probably a good idea.

Next, add a thick layer of the peat-based potting soil, but leave plenty of space for the plants. Now the terrarium is ready for the plants.

We had to do some trimming.

We found all our plants in our yard. There was a small, pretty wild plant growing next to our house under the monkey grass, and I never had the heart to pull it out. I thought we’d give it a chance in the terrarium even though I have no idea what it is.

I also found an offshoot of some Japanese painted fern, which I had planted years ago near our front porch.  My six-year-old and three-year-old had a great time going around the yard collecting moss – much more than we needed.  We also found a small piece of bark with lichen growing on it.

As we arranged the plants inside the terrarium, I decided my son needed a lesson in garden design so that he wouldn’t crowd everything together. Later, I also read that we shouldn’t put too much moss into the terrarium so that the moss doesn’t overpower the small plants.

Once the terrarium is finished, you need to water it well, but after that, you only need to use a spray bottle once in a while to mist the plants and soil. Keep the lid open until the sides of the container have no more water droplets on them, and then shut it tight.

The terrarium needs to sit in a well-lit area, but no direct sunlight should fall on it.  Remember, these are shade plants.  Fertilizer isn’t needed either.  You don’t want the plants to grow too big, and when they start to get too big or the leaves touch the sides of the container, you’ll need to trim them.

After a few days, I noticed our plants looked a little brown and yellow, so I snipped off those leaves and hoped for the best.  Now, it’s looking good, and I’ve noticed some new growth on the wild, unidentified plant and the moss!

This was a fun, easy project, and it’s a perfect for children who enjoy planting or who are learning about plants.

Have you ever made a terrarium? 

March 8, 2013

Project-based Homeschooling for Young Children: Interview with Lori Pickert, Part 3

Rocket ProjectThis is Part 3 of my interview with Lori Pickert, author of Project-based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-directed Learners.  Please click here to start with Part 1.  Scroll below to leave your own questions for Lori.

My questions have to do with getting started in Project-based Learning with such young children who obviously don’t have the experience to direct their learning. I sent Lori six, multi-layered questions, and not only did she answer them, she gave very detailed answers, which I appreciate very much.  However, they were too long to put into one post, so I have divided the interview into three posts – this being the last. (Note that I have emphasized parts of the interview in bold text.)

The good news is that Lori has promised to be available to answer YOUR questions. See below. I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview, learned from it as I have, and I hope you’ll contribute to the discussion below.  Thank you!

PART 3: Interview with Lori Pickert on Getting Started with Project-based Homeschooling with Young Children

4. I liked a comment you once made to me on Twitter that for youngsters, we need to “silently feed” their interests.  Can you speak more about that for the sake of my readers?  I think I have been doing this in many ways with my son, but it has never felt very child-led to me. However, I know if I ask him his opinion on things, he’s not going to articulate exactly what I know he’s deeply interested in. And if we “silently feed the interests of young children,” how do we transition them into doing most of the work on their own? Is this something that we can expect will happen naturally as they get older?  Have you noticed an approximate age that all this gets easier?

Lori: The age at which children will take over directing and managing their own learning depends on many things — your comfort level, your child’s personality/temperament, his level of independence, and his experience doing this type of work. Some children have a stronger need to collaborate and prefer involving others in their work. If that’s the case, if you don’t provide an opportunity for him to work with other children, he’ll probably depend on you to be his co-learner. Other children prefer to work alone, even in a classroom situation.

A child of six might conceive of a project and pretty much carry it through to the end without needing you to do much more than supply resources and transportation. Another child might not work that independently until much later.

When I talk about silently feeding a child’s interests, I’m usually contrasting that to sitting down and having a purposeful discussion with a child about what they would like to study. Instead, you simply enhance their environment and support the work they’re already doing, letting them discover and use what you’ve provided in their own way.

As an example, if you know your child is very interested in dinosaurs, you might sit down and say, “Do you want to do a project on dinosaurs? What questions do you have? What do you want to learn?” Or you could silently feed that interest by bringing in a few library books, hanging a couple of posters, putting plastic dinosaurs in the block basket, and so forth. Then as your child articulates questions, you ease into project work.

This works well for children who are resistant to adult involvement, who are prejudiced against anything “educational,” who are (maybe rightfully) suspicious of your motives, and so on. Maybe you’ve had a bad experience turning something they enjoyed into a unit that they did not enjoy. Maybe they’re deschooling and are afraid of anything that smacks of school. Maybe the words “project” and “learning” have negative connotations for them right now. Or maybe they just prefer to be completely independent.

It can also work well as an introduction to project work if a child is too young or inexperienced to understand what you mean when you say, “What would you like to learn about?” If they have an obvious interest, you can begin to feed that interest and support their work immediately.

Even an older child can be confused about what you mean when you ask what they’d like to learn more about. Silently feeding their existing interest can help them put the experience before the jargon.

It is still “child-led” or self-directed — you are simply offering, without expectation or demand, materials and experiences that can provoke further investigation, play, and questions. And as they research and make and share, you begin to talk about that work in a way that introduces the ideas of doing long-term projects. Next time, they’ll probably tell you what they want to learn about next.

5. Finally, much of the time that I would like to dedicate to project time is eaten up by the demands of a particularly needy three-year-old.  Do you have any general advice for moms of youngsters who are interested in PBH, but are having a hard time “doing it all”?

Lori: You can’t do it all perfectly all the time, so relax and concentrate on setting and meeting some small goals.

One of the reasons we focus on “small wins” in the PBH forum is because focusing on what’s working is usually the best way to make more of it! Alas, focusing on whatever we perceive to be lacking is not as motivating.

Younger children benefit enormously from being at the edges of project work. They can pick up the habits and routines and attitudes of their older siblings. They learn early on to be independent and clean up after themselves, and they imitate the creative work and play they observe. Give them the chance to do what their siblings are doing if they are interested. Let them experiment with the same materials as much as possible; give them age-appropriate versions to work with, and let them have their turn getting your full attention as they work on their own ideas.

Look for pockets of time during the day when you can focus on your older child — even for just a few minutes — and use that time to have him tell you about what he made, what his plans are, his new questions, and so on.

Use time and activities you already do to fold in project work. When you read aloud, choose a project-related book. Try reading aloud right before dedicated project time. If they watch a little TV, use that time to watch project-related videos from the library. At dinner, have your son tell his dad about what he did today and the newest things he’s learned, and so on.

Finally, be aware that the kids are always getting older and more mature and it’s likely that everything will be completely different in six months!

Even when it feels like you aren’t accomplishing as much as you want, keep living a life that prioritizes learning, making, and sharing. It’s those underlying values that will form the foundation of his learning life. ~Lori Pickert

***

Thank you, Lori, for taking the time to answer my difficult and long-winded questions! I also have a couple of extra questions that might be helpful to my readers, and I’m curious too!

What are you working on now?

Lori: Currently I’m writing a book for adults who want to learn to mentor themselves (a more formal companion to my PBH for Grown-Ups series) that also folds in advice for mentoring children (without necessarily homeschooling!) as well as building a family culture that supports this type of learning and living.

Do you have any other resources to help parents get started in project-based homeschooling?

Lori: We have a forum with over 600 members. It’s a warm, supportive, inclusive community, and I answer questions and brainstorm with readers there daily.

I’m also working on a mini-guide to starting PBH and another guide for starting a project group. We’re enhancing the site with a gallery of children’s projects and a forum for people who would like to meet other PBHers in their area. And I will be publishing a series of e-books that drill down deeper into various aspects of PBH (focusing on the different age ranges from preK to teen, authentic art, journaling, and so on) so people can get more detailed information in the areas they need most.

I’ve received tremendous feedback from my readers during the last six months. My intention now is to create a foundation of supportive work that will give people the help they need to try these ideas. I’m very available on my site, in my forum, and on Twitter for people who want to make contact, ask questions, or offer suggestions. I strongly believe adults need the same type of learning experiences that I champion for children: to follow their own path, work at their own pace, explore their particular interests, make mistakes, and work within a supportive community. If we can learn this way, it makes it so much more likely that our children will, too.

***

These questions had to do with what I, Shelli, needed to learn.  Now, what do YOU need to learn?  If you have additional questions or comments about project-based homeschooling for Lori Pickert, please leave them in the comments section, and she will be happy to answer them for you. I will also respond to any questions or comments directed at me.  Thank you! 

Click here to read Part 1 of this interview.  Click here to read Part 2.

March 6, 2013

Project-based Homeschooling for Young Children: Interview with Lori Pickert, Part 2

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This is Part 2 of my interview with Lori Pickert, author of Project-based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-directed Learners.  Please click here to start with Part 1.

My questions have to do with getting started in Project-based Learning with young children who obviously don’t have the experience to direct their learning.  I sent Lori six, multi-layered questions, and not only did she answer them, she gave very detailed answers, which is why I’ve divided the interview into three posts. (Note that I have emphasized parts of the interview in bold text.)

The good news is that Lori has promised to be available to answer YOUR questions.  (Click here to go to Part 3 and read the Q&A.) I am turning off the comments section on these first two sections so that we can direct all the comments and questions at the end of this interview and avoid any repetition of questions. I hope you’ll enjoy this interview, learn from it as I have, and I hope you’ll contribute to the discussion at the end.  Thank you, and Thank you, Lori!

PART 2: Interview with Lori Pickert on Getting Started with Project-based Homeschooling with Young Children

2. As I read your book, I could see that it’s very important for children to be able to present their findings to some kind of audience. While my six-year-old is happy to show his creations — for example, the model of the Titanic — to anyone who wants to see them, neither does he want to explain what he has learned about the Titanic, nor does he want to put it into book form, charts, puppet shows or anything else.  (And, yes, I have written his questions and progress in a journal, and I have asked him what else he would like to do, etc.) Is this just his age, and can I assume that as he gets older, he’ll want to go farther with his projects? Is the model of the Titanic enough because he has decided it’s enough? How do I encourage him to share his knowledge? 

Lori: Showing his creations and talking about them is one way to share. If you have family far away, you might start a family blog just to share his project work. Kids usually really like blogging — they love getting comments from friends and family. You could transcribe what he wants to say about his project and type his words for him. He could take photographs himself if he was interested. You could video him talking about (and showing) his constructions. And as he gets a little older, he might want to type his own entries.

If he decides his model is enough and he isn’t interested in producing other types of representations, that’s fine. You can encourage him to represent his work in different ways by exploring different media (drawing, painting, clay, etc.) and by having a nice selection of materials available all the time. But if he’s not interested, don’t push it.

It’s great to share your work not just when it’s completed but while it’s being constructed. If he has friends over (just to play or specifically to make art with), he can show them what he’s made and field their questions and suggestions.

If he’s showing his work to his little brother, that counts, too!

As he gets older, he may focus just as intently on sharing his knowledge in a particular way — by making a film, say, or a model. That’s okay. Variety is nice, but it’s more important for him to own the learning process — and being very confident about what he wants to do and when he’s done is part of that. He should have abundant choices, abundant materials to choose from, and abundant experiences. Then he can narrow them down and communicate his ideas in the way that feels right to him.

There are many reasons why project-based homeschooling emphasizes sharing what you learn. You really know you understand something when you can teach it to someone else. Collaboration is a crucial life skill. And PBH is about helping children connect with their meaningful work: where their interests and their talents intersect. This is a years-long process that you are only just beginning; there will be time to explore it fully and develop it from project to project.

Helping children share what they know helps them find their place in the world, and it helps them discover what they have to give. I don’t think there’s a better goal for education than that.

3. On page 58 you wrote, “He learns to plan and make first drafts, write lists of needed materials, and adapt materials to new uses.”  My six-year-old wants a final product RIGHT NOW. I realize that it takes time and maturity for him to overcome his impatience, but do you have any advice as to what I could do and say to help him learn that it takes time to do things, especially to do them well?

Lori: Remember, he learns to plan and make first drafts — he probably won’t start off already working that way.

Every version of a draft is a final product, in a way. It’s the repetition and enlargement of the original idea that makes the earlier version a “draft.” So if he wants to make a book or a robot or a cape, he does. What turns it into a first draft is continuing to come back to that piece of work and talk about it, examine it, share it with others, and possibly decide to improve upon it. Children working together spur each other to do multiple drafts as they copy and extend one another’s ideas. I make a cape out of paper; you make a cape out of paper and add a big emblem to the middle. I make a new cape out of fabric and add an emblem to that. You make a fabric cape with an emblem and you change the way it is tied shut. And so on. But a child working alone can also be encouraged to improve upon an original design by asking him, “Is there anything you want to add? Is there anything you want to change? Why don’t you show it to your friend from next door?” Get in the habit of asking, “Are you done with this or is there more you want to do with it?”

My book discusses other ways to encourage multiple drafts, including introducing new materials, stepping up to expensive materials at the end, repeating field trips, and so on.

As to helping him learn that it takes time to do things well, that is a lesson that life teaches us, right? We can try gently pointing it out. (Although that would get old fast if someone was doing it to us, so proceed delicately.) If you try some of the ways listed in the book to “deepen the work,” he will hopefully learn through experience that when he comes back to do something again, he gets a little further than before.

You can also sit down together and reflect on the work he’s done, looking it over and talking about everything he did. Then you can talk about that life lesson: that it takes time to do things well, that we get better with each attempt.

Shelli: I would like to also mention that since our Titanic Project, I have learned that showing my son how other people (artists, builders, etc.) have dealt with mistakes and gained resilience has helped him start to become more patient with his own abilities. I will write more about this in an upcoming post about our rocket project.

***

Click here to read Part 1 of this interview. Click here to go to Part 3.  I have turned off the comments on the first two parts, but Lori will be available after I publish Part 3 for your additional questions!  I also hope you’ll subscribe to my blog so that you can join me on this project-based homeschooling adventure——->

March 4, 2013

Project-based Homeschooling for Young Children: Interview with Lori Pickert, Part 1

Lori Pickert was the owner and director of a small, Reggio-inspired school, and she has also traveled around the country as an educational consultant “helping teachers and administrators explore authentic art, long-term projects, and Reggio-inspired learning.” Later she began homeschooling her two boys, and now she’s the author of Project-based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-directed LearnersYou can find her blog, forum and other resources at project-based-homeschooling.com.

Last week I published my review of Lori’s book.  When I first found Lori’s blog, I was very attracted to this idea of mentoring my children, which is based on the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy.  It just felt right. What I learned on her blog echoed my own thoughts on how to homeschool my children, and I was very excited when her book came out because I wanted to understand this process better. While I loved the book, I found myself asking questions throughout it because I had already experimented with project-based homeschooling with my six-year-old. Doing it in real life is hard and messy, as I wrote about in Building the Titanic: Project-based Homeschooling. That post is my first true foray into a complicated project with my son, but it is a good example of how this process works.

My questions mostly had to do with getting started with such young children who obviously don’t have the experience to direct their learning.  I asked Lori if I could interview her about project-based learning specifically for young children, and since she is supportive and gracious, she said yes. I sent her six, multi-layered questions, and not only did she answer them, she gave very detailed answers, which I appreciate very much.  However, they are too long to put into one post, so I have divided the interview into three posts, which I will publish this week. (Note that I have emphasized parts of the interview in bold text.)

The good news is that Lori has promised to be available to answer YOUR questions.  I am turning off the comments section on these first two posts so that we can direct all the comments and questions at the end of this interview and avoid any repetition of questions. I hope you’ll enjoy this interview, learn from it as I have, and I hope you’ll contribute to the discussion at the end.  Thank you, and Thank you, Lori!

(Update: The rest of this interview has been posted: Click here to go to Part 2. Click here to go to Part 3.)

PART 1: Interview with Lori Pickert on Getting Started with Project-based Homeschooling with Young Children

1. In your book you say it’s very important to not make suggestions and let the children “own the work.”  However, I find it very difficult to not make suggestions to my six-year-old.  When I ask, “Where can we find out more information about this?” he always says “the computer,” so I end up suggesting other resources we could turn to.  When we were doing the Titanic project, I worked very hard at letting him try to come up with the ideas first, and then when he got stumped (which was often), I made suggestions.  Is this what you mean?  Or in other words, how do you let a child direct his own work when he doesn’t yet have the experience to know how to answer his own questions? Or even know how to articulate the questions he wants to ask?

Lori: The most important thing is to remember that it’s a process. You are learning how to mentor, and your child is learning how to direct and manage his own learning. Mentoring means slowly transferring the power to him and helping him learn how to be in charge of his own learning. You should try to stay out of his way as much as possible and leave him room to have his own ideas — but that doesn’t mean never making suggestions. It just means waiting to see if he will have his own ideas and supporting those first.

He needs an environment that supports independent working, he needs you to model how to ask questions and research and make and share, and he might need you to help him recognize and articulate his interests and questions.

Being a mentor means helping him slowly take control — and it means showing him the ropes.

You keep the ball rolling by making gentle suggestions (or offering choices) when necessary. You use a gentle touch, staying alert to his questions and ideas (even if they need some digging to uncover) and letting him lead whenever possible.

I’ll quote from the book:

At the beginning, your child might need you to model how to wonder aloud, ask questions, consider alternatives. He looks to you as an example of how to approach learning as a researcher and investigator. As times goes on, this approach to learning becomes second nature to him. He is accustomed to asking questions, seeking out experts, collecting research materials, investigating first-hand, and creating original work. He looks automatically for ways to share what he learns with others.

He will look to you to set the tone, get the ball rolling, and keep it rolling. In time, he will take over. He knows what to do and how to do it. He knows what to expect from the process, and he has a firm goal in mind.

But he will still need you to be that trusted resource. He will still need you as his first audience, his best collaborator, and his mentor. He will still need the support of a family culture that celebrates and supports meaningful work.

There are times when he might get off course, lose steam, hit a dead end. He will benefit from your input and suggestions. —Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners 

You learn to observe carefully and wait to offer suggestions only when and if they’re needed. It takes practice to be patient, to support his interests without directing how he explores them, and to prioritize his ideas. You have to give yourself the gift of time and allow yourself to slowly but steadily acquire these mentoring skills, just as you respect his setting his own learning pace.

You focus on giving him the tools, experiences, and skills he needs to work as independently as possible. But it doesn’t happen immediately. If it did, he wouldn’t need a thoughtful mentor! It is a slow and steady transfer of control and decision-making.

If your son is stuck in a Google/Wikipedia rut (like most of us adults), remember that research is multilayered. Finding one answer should turn up new questions (if an interest is deep and engaging enough). Google results can offer up books on Amazon, which can lead you to checking your library to see what books they offer. Reading a National Geographic Kids article on sharks might spark new questions he’ll need to look up in books or online. Or it might remind you of a show you saw on Animal Planet. And so on.

Children can’t reference things they are completely unfamiliar with. They can only work with the raw materials they’ve been given and the experiences they’ve already had. So we need to make sure they get plenty of experience at the library, looking through reference books at home, and even asking friends and family for help. We need to visit places in the community that offer knowledge and skills — universities, libraries, museums, park districts, events. We need to start making a connection between the things that interest us and how we can explore them. Then, when they are puzzling out where they can find information they need, you can ask leading questions like

  • Where else could we find out about this?
  • What kind of people might know about this?
  • Are there any places in our town where we might go to find out more?

and so on. If they get stuck, you can gently nudge them in the right direction, both by modeling (“I remember Grandma showed you that book about birds…”) and gentle suggestion (“Maybe we could ask the librarian for help”), then back off as soon as they articulate a plan.

If he keeps suggesting the computer, ask, “Where else could we look?,” then sit down and brainstorm together. You can make a game of it: Let’s think of ten things we could do to find out more about igloos. This is a good learning step to master: instead of just working on one idea at a time until you figure out it doesn’t work, have a brainstorming session and come up with a whole list of ideas, then let him decide which is the best one to start with. You might brainstorm about materials he could use to build a model of the Mars rover, places in the community where you could learn about cats, and so on.

It also helps to build a habit of talking about your own learning. Say out loud, “I wonder what kind of bird that is at the feeder — I’m going to get the field guide and look.” Say, “I’m totally stuck on the sweater I’m knitting — I’m going to ask one of the women at the yarn store to help me.” This can feel awkward at first, but you’re making your own learning visible. He can see you using different resources to find your own answers, and it gives him ideas for his own investigations.

Finally, don’t ignore or slide over suggestions he makes that seem silly or useless on the surface. Let him try his ideas. They may take longer; they may even fail — but you don’t want to shorten the learning process or make it easier. Make long work of it; slow learning leads to authentic understanding.

While it’s always optimal to stand back and let your child lead, when he gets stuck, it’s fine to help get things rolling again — just do as little as possible and then step into the background again.

Mentoring self-directed learners is like rolling a hoop down a hill. You want to let the hoop roll on its own, only touching it when necessary to keep it upright and rolling, and even then as lightly as possible. — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners 

Overall, remember this is a slow process. You are helping him develop these abilities by living this way yourself (and sharing as you go), by deliberate modeling, by making suggestions but letting him lead as much as possible. It’s not a hands-off process — it’s actually very hands-on. The more aware you are of his thinking process, the more carefully you observe his play and conversation, the better you can help him take control of his own learning.

***

Please come back on Wednesday and Friday to read Part 2 and Part 3 of my interview with Lori Pickert about project-based homeschooling for young children.  Click here to go to Part 2. Click here to go to Part 3. I have turned off the comments on the first two parts, but Lori will be available after I publish Part 3 for your additional questions!  I also hope you’ll subscribe to my blog so that you can join me on this project-based homeschooling adventure——->

 

February 19, 2013

Homeschooling Reading and Language Arts for Kindergarten / 1st Grade

Last year I wrote a post titled How I’ve Taught Kindergarten Reading, and now I’m following that up with our reading progress this year. I have titled this page Kindergarten / First Grade because I really don’t know what level my son is at, but I’m guessing somewhere between K and first.  If your child is five or younger, I suggest you start with that post. Now my son is six-and-a-half.

I read over last year’s post with a little trepidation. How far have we come? I can’t say my six-year-old is reading independently or that he’s excitedly delving into chapter books on his own. Frankly, he’s just not that interested in reading (or math, for that matter), but we have made good progress.  He says he likes our lessons, but he doesn’t ask for more.

Since he doesn’t balk at his lessons (like near the end of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons), and he’s quite agreeable to teach, I feel we have finally gotten into our groove when it comes to learning reading (same for math).

In other words, I’m not forcing anything, but I don’t wait until he says, “I want to learn how to read” or shows an interest.  I do that for most other subjects, but I strongly feel that he’ll be more capable of doing the things that interest him once he learns how to read (and do basic math). I also feel that the earlier he can learn these skills, the easier it will be for him.

So how have I taught him?  Like always, I have used my instincts, and as for curriculum, I have pulled from many sources. I’m fortunate to have been given many educational tools!  It would be foolish for me to buy something unless I knew for sure my son needed it.

Time Spent Teaching

As far as formal reading lessons, I still alternate reading and math lessons Monday-Thursday mornings, although I’m flexible if we get busy. I also use Fridays for catch-up, if needed.  We spend about 20~45 minutes on a reading (or math) lesson.

Resources Used**

The main resource that I started out with was passed on to me from a friend who is a retired Kindergarten teacher.  Ready to Read Phonics by Educational Insights.  The reason I gave it a try is because the lessons are on cassette, and all my son has to do is follow along in a workbook and listen. I feel strongly that he is a auditory/visual learner, so I thought he would like it.  I stop the cassette and repeat some of it when it goes too fast.  The set also has some fun games and simple books to read.

This set has proven useful, but by itself, it has not taught my son to read. The instructions say to repeat the exercises until the child has mastered them. (A lot of reading and math sources say this.)  Well, my son is NOT interested in repeating anything, and I don’t blame him!  After one time, it gets boring for me too.  So I’ve done one lesson at a time, and I have followed them up with several days or weeks of other lessons going over the same material.  Simply put, I have used it as a sort of teacher’s guide.

The second main resource I have used is My Big Phonics Word Book written by Cass Hollander and published by McClanahan Book Company.  Each page spread goes over one letter blend, i.e. “-ag,” “-am,” “-ap,” etc. all the way to “-unch.”  We read each page, and then we use the accompanying stickers in a notebook, and I have him write the words corresponding to the pictures.

**These items may be old and not as accessible, so I encourage you to simply look for cheap workbooks at various stores such as Walmart, Target, a grocery store or teacher’s store. Go to library book sales. Exchange with other homeschoolers. You can adapt many simple materials to teaching basic concepts. There’s no reason to spend a lot of money.

Other than this, I have used games, videos and reading practice:

Games**

  • Long vowel “Go Fish.” ~ On index cards, I wrote out 36 long vowel words, and I made sure there were two of each long vowel sound. Deal six cards to each player and the rest goes into a pile. Player #1 asks Player #2 for a specific long vowel sound (i.e. “Do you have a long vowel e card?”) If yes, Player #2 gives Player #1 that card. If not, Player #2 says “Go fish,” and Player #1 must draw card from the pile. If Player #1 gets a match, he keeps them and sets them aside. Take turns until all the cards are used up. The player with the most matches wins. Be sure to read the words as you play.
  • Blends and digraphs “matching or memory game.” ~ I used a small blends and digraphs chart that someone gave to me, but there are many to be found on the Internet, such as this one. Simply make two copies, cut out the squares, and paste them to heavier paper, if needed. Mix them up, and spread them out on a table. Each player takes a turn turning over two cards, trying to make a match. If they find a match, they put it aside in a pile. Keep taking turns in this manner until all the cards are matched up. The player with the most matches wins.
  • My sight word game (sometimes the three-year-old plays this using letters.)
  • Sight word bingo 

**Note that you can adapt these games to teach a variety of skills.

Our favorite videos

Reading Practice

Most importantly, however, I have started a reading practice with my son. I try to get him reading even if it’s 2~3 pages in an early reader. This is where I know we’ve progressed because last year this was almost impossible for him.  Now it’s challenging, but he can read!

As we’re reading I remind him of all the phonics rules we’ve learned and the various blends. I don’t make him suffer through words if he doesn’t know them, but I do try to get him to sound the words out.

Our favorite early readers are the We Both Read Books, and my son’s favorite titles are Just Five More Minutes, Animals Under Our Feet, and Fox’s Best Trick Ever.

Language Arts

Last but not least, we make language arts part of our daily routine. I don’t have to worry about ‘teaching it’ because it’s going to happen no matter what.  Please see:

Since my son and I love stories so much, I have used this opportunity to teach him the elements of a story using a few worksheets in Story Elements by McGraw-Hill Children’s Publishing.  I’ll write more about this in an upcoming post.

Writing Practice

We don’t have a regular writing practice yet. My son isn’t particularly interested in writing at this time, but he has good handwriting skills, which luckily came easy to him. I have him write periodically for special purposes such as:

  • The phonics workbook (see above)
  • Our snake book project
  • Whenever an occasion comes up (and we take advantage of every holiday) to make someone a card or write a thank you note, I have my son make a card and copy a note in it.
  • My son also knows I’m available if he wants to dictate a story or letter for me to write for him, but so far, we’ve only done this once.

I hope this helps you think about how you can teach reading in a relaxed and eclectic manner! 

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