Posts tagged ‘child led learning’

July 24, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: A Mushroom Project Teaches Mama When to Let Go

mushroom project-1Last year when my seven-year-old told me he wanted to learn about and grow mushrooms, I was excited. This was something I could sink my teeth into. Though I’m a novice, I love plants and gardening, and mushrooms fascinate me. We see so many cool ones around here, and they never fail to excite me. My boys love looking at them too. So I was looking forward to learning about mushrooms alongside my son.

I had visions of learning how to identify mushrooms, creating a mushroom poster, and learning how to grow them at home. But I was a good PBH Mama. I didn’t mention any of that. 

Instead, I sat down with my son and asked him what he wanted to know. This is what he said and how I wrote it down in our project journal:

Mushrooms — “I want to grow them in the house or in a terrarium.”

  • Where are their spores?
  • Are they made of spores?
  • What are they made of?
  • How do they grow?

“My idea is to crumble mushroom into a terrarium.”

We’ll experiment with layers of dirt and scraps from woods. Mushroom from outside, but we need to identify.

1) Learn about mushrooms –> books from library

2) My idea to use terrarium. (I gave him an old venus flytrap terrarium we had.)

Don’t worry if that doesn’t totally make sense to you. It doesn’t make sense to me either. I need to take better notes!

We checked out some books about mushrooms from the library, and when we got them home, my son enjoyed looking at the mushrooms in the field guides, but he wasn’t as interested in listening to me read about mushrooms. Despite the questions he asked, he mostly wanted to grow mushrooms. I knew his idea to crumble mushrooms into the terrarium would not work because I had looked up some videos on how to grow mushrooms for my own knowledge, and I showed him at least one video too.

I realized two things. 1) He wanted to do it his way, and I just needed to let him try that, and 2) growing mushrooms isn’t simple, but letting a seven-year-old try out his way of growing mushrooms is simple, and that’s what I needed to do anyway.

So, over a month or so, we tried some different things. I found a few notes I took in our project journal:

Sept. 13, 2013

He wants to chop mushrooms smaller and put under dirt. (Current project is very smelly.)

Later, I tried to sum up the few things we did in the journal. (I’m not very good at keeping this journal on a daily or even weekly basis, but I do manage to update it now and then.)

Oct. 8, 2013

We took old carnivorous plant terrarium with its dirt and added wood chips. (Because the seven-year-old knew that mushrooms needed a substrate.)

1) Bought button mushrooms, cut them up, put them on top of wood chips. We kept dome on and left it on front porch — they just rotted. We also put some of the mushrooms on leaf litter in the woods – nothing happened.

2) Seven-year-old found mushrooms with yellow caps in yard. [Since we're not sure which mushrooms are poisonous and which are not, we never touch wild mushrooms with our hands. My son managed to gather these using two small sticks.] He put that in the pot and left dome off. They were gone in the morning. We think squirrels got them!

3) We bought Bunapi mushrooms at Dekalb Farmer’s Market. 2 days in refrigerator. We put them in terrarium, left dome on, and we’re keeping it inside house. Mist with water.

Unfortunately, my notes stop there, but nothing ever happened with those mushrooms either.  Eventually the terrarium ended up back in the garage, and my son’s other interests kept taking precedence.

However, something serendipitous happened! During the summer we were given some sundew seeds to try to grow. Remember my son’s carnivorous plant project? We kept them in a little cup with another plastic cup over it because it needed to stay wet and humid inside. Though the sundew never grew, we did find this one day when we were checking them! It was unintentional, but we did grow a mushroom!

For a long time, I thought this project was a bust. I felt like I did something wrong because he didn’t pursue it further, but actually I did ask him about it, and he didn’t seem interested in pursuing it further. That’s actually the whole point in project-based homeschooling: you let the child decide when he’s finished with a project. As I began looking back over this year to create an end-of-the-year review and write some of these end-of-the-year blog posts, I realized that we did, indeed, do a mushroom project. It just didn’t look like how I envisioned it would be.

Trying something and failing at it is one of the best ways of learning. Deciding not to pursue it further is a worthy decision. Though my son may not be able to identify the mushrooms that grow in our yard, and he doesn’t know how to grow mushrooms, he has actually learned quite a lot about mushrooms. He’s learned everything he’s wanted to learn about them. At least for now.

When I realized I needed to write this blog post, I thought I would ask my son one more time. He was standing next to my desk as I was looking at some of the photos we had taken of his mushroom experiments.

“Do you remember how you wanted to grow mushrooms?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you want to do anything more with that?”

“No.” A definite shake of the head. He walked away.

As I’ve written, learning is like a chain-link fence. We build our knowledge one link at a time; it expands and grows in different directions. My son has several links in his knowledge about mushrooms. If it ever matters to him again, he can build onto that knowledge, but it won’t mean much unless he wants to learn about it.

I think it’s neat that he had an idea, and he tried it. That’s what I want to encourage. Questions. Curiosity. Getting excited about attempting things he doesn’t know. 

As for me, I know that if I want to, I could do my own mushroom project. I could learn how to identify and grow them and share my interest with my boys, but as it turns out, all I really want to do is take photographs of them. So, for fun, I’m sharing my photographs of mushrooms here with you in this slideshow. Aren’t they beautiful and amazing?!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What are you learning about today?

 

October 15, 2013

Project-based Homeschooling: Steps I Took to Support My Son’s Interest in Carnivorous Plants

This is a very detailed account of the steps I took to support my sons interest in carnivorous plants. There is much more to project-based homeschooling (PBH) than what I illustrate here, but I hope it gives you some ideas as you proceed to mentor your children! Remember, there’s no right or wrong in PBH, but there are some tricks to getting a child to go further and learn more about his interests!

To learn more about project-based learning, see my post What is Project-based Homeschooling? or Lori Pickert’s website project-based-homeschooling.com.

1. Recognizing the interest

I don’t remember when my son first acquired an interest in carnivorous plants, but I remember buying Step Into Reading Hungry Plants and reading that book to him because he wanted to learn about them. We also spent a long time looking at photos on the Internet. We learned that some very big carnivorous plants live in Borneo.

That was probably a year ago.

2. Supporting the interest

Sometime last spring we were shopping at Home Depot when I saw a little Venus Flytrap. I could have ignored it, but I knew it was an interest of my son’s, so I wasn’t going to do that. My son was thrilled to see a real, live carnivorous plant, and making him happy makes me happy. For less than $5, we bought the plant and started a project.

That little plant was fussed over at home. I looked up information about how to care for Venus flytraps on the Internet, read about it to my son, and he took good care of the plant. He had a lot of fun finding bugs to feed it too.

I asked my son if he wanted to learn more about carnivorous plants, and he said yes.

We went to the library and checked out their books about carnivorous plants. Whenever we’re at the library, I make a point of showing my son how I’m finding the books on the computer, and often, I ask the librarian to help us. I encourage my son to ask too, but I don’t force him. I know that if he observes how I use the library, he’ll grow up knowing how to use it!

Unfortunately, before we could read those library books, a family emergency sent us to Chicago for two weeks. We had to return those books, but once we were settled in Chicago, we decided to visit the local library there (wonderful library – sigh). There, we found a very good book about sundews for young adults, and I read the whole book to my son.

(The Venus flytrap came with us to Chicago too!)

In that book we learned all about sundews, including how to grow them. You mean WE can grow other carnivorous plants? This was a new idea to my son and me. I had never considered trying to grow more than the little Venus flytrap, which is a favorite for lots of kids. My son said he wanted to grow them, and I agreed to help him.

3. Field trip

While we were in Chicago, we visited the Chicago Botanical Garden. (Since we are members of our local botanical garden, we got into the Chicago Botanical Garden for free. Since we love nature, and it’s obviously a deep interest for my son, it’s been a no brainer to invest some money in memberships to such places. It has saved us a lot of money. You can read more about saving money with family memberships here.)

We had been to the Chicago Botanical Garden before, and it’s impossible to see it all in one day, so we made a mental agenda. One of our missions was to find their carnivorous plant collection. It was not a disappointment. You can see more photos in the slideshow.

When we returned from Chicago, we checked out the books at our library again. These are all the books we have read regarding carnivorous plants:

  • Hungry Plants by Mary Batten
  • Bladderworts: Trapdoors to Oblivion by Victor Gentle
  • Carnivorous Plants by Elaine Pascoe
  • Sundew Stranglers: Plants that Eat Insects by Jerome Wexler
  • Nature Close-up: Carnivorous Plants by Dwight Kuhn

4. Creating representations of the subject

During this time, my son made several representations of carnivorous plants. I was happy he did this completely on his own. I didn’t know he was drawing these pictures until he showed them to me.

Don’t underestimate any artwork your child does while pursuing a project. To draw, build or sculpt something, the child has to study and observe that something in a way he hasn’t done before. It’s another level of learning.

Venus Fly Traps

He did this one more recently. A big mouth bass swims by a bladderwort!

Yep, those are supposed to be human legs dangling out of the mouth of a carnivorous plant.

This happened a little differently from his first two significant projects. For his Titanic project, I had suggested he make the Titanic out of clay, and when that didn’t work, his dad suggested he try cardboard. For his rocket project, he came up with the idea to build a model of the Saturn V, but I was closely involved. After doing those two labor-intensive representations, it was refreshing for me to have him draw these pictures!

This one I found on the Atlanta Botanical Garden website (click to download).

5. Supporting the project

At the end of each school year, I am going to do a brief end-of-year review and reward my sons with a gift – something educational that supports their studies. (We buy them plenty of fun, non-educational toys for birthdays, Christmas and occasional times throughout the year.)

This summer at my kindergartener’s end-of-year review, I gave him a beautiful poster I found of carnivorous plants. He was thrilled. It’s hanging in his room, and we have read it thoroughly and referred to it a few times.

6. Serendipity

Okay, so serendipity isn’t exactly a step you can take to encourage deep learning, but it is helpful when it happens. And when you start thinking about a subject, it’s surprising how it starts to present itself to you!

The first case of serendipity occurred when we returned from Chicago. My son was enrolled in a week-long summer camp at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. One day in camp, the facilitators talked about the carnivorous plants at the garden and showed them to the campers.

But that’s not the best part. One day after I dropped my son off, I was walking back to the car with my youngest son, and we passed the gift shop. Outside, there were some pitcher plants for sale! I had been looking on the Internet to find out if any local business sold carnivorous plants, and I was coming up empty. Finding them at the botanical garden was very lucky!

After consulting with my husband, and talking to my seven-year-old, we bought the pot with the white-top pitcher plants (Sarracenia leucophylla) and another bog plant, white-star sedge (Rhynchospora colorata), as an early birthday present for my son.

7. Speaking to Experts

One part of project-based learning is encouraging your children to seek out and communicate with experts on the subject. My son is still young and sometimes shy, so for right now, whenever possible, I speak to the experts. Experts aren’t plentiful, but I got lucky that day. I asked the lady in the gift shop if there was anyone around the garden we could speak to about caring for the pitcher plant. She pointed to a man who was just outside the window trimming some trees.

The man was definitely an expert. He grew carnivorous plants at home and at the garden, and he explained how he cared for them. I asked him several questions even though I had already learned most of the information on the Internet. I wanted my son to see me speaking to him, asking him questions, and getting more information. We definitely learned more! I was very happy that my seven-year-old piped up with a question or two of his own. Hes not so shy when hes talking about something he cares about!

When we got home, my son added his Venus flytrap to the pot with the pitcher plant and white sedge. The Venus flytrap had been losing its trapping ability inside the house – I don’t think the light coming through our windows is bright enough. It recovered and flourished outside in the pot with the other plants. Both carnivorous plants have been catching lots of prey in our yard, so I’m hoping they’ll reproduce!

8. Documentation

An important part of project-based homeschooling is documenting your child’s work. Michelle, at Raising Cajuns, has a great post about documenting, and Lori Pickert has good posts about keeping a journal – this should not be mistaken for a portfolio of your child’s work. In a PBH journal, you document and refer back to your journal frequently, reminding your child of their questions and the goals they have. To be honest, I haven’t been good at doing this intentionally, and I want to get better. But I do document in these ways:

  • As a photographer, I can’t help but take lots of pictures.  I use them on my blog and most importantly, in our end-of-year-review that I share with my son. (He looks at my blog when it’s open in my browser, and he loves to see photos of his projects.)
  • I keep a journal where I write down his progress in his projects, and any questions he may have, but I need to get better at referring back to this!
  • We display his work in the house. Drawings and paintings are hung in our “art gallery” in the kitchen. Sculptures and other creations are displayed in our activity room until it gets too cluttered. Then my son takes him up to his room where he has some shelves to display his treasures.  (I’m in the process of framing some of his art to display in the house too.)
  • Again, I take photos of everything. As Lori wrote somewhere, this simple act of documenting sends your child a powerful message that his work is valuable. Pay attention to what you want your child to do more of!

In our carnivorous plant project, I took lots of photos, and I’m happy to share a slideshow of them with you (and my son).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

9. Follow-up

After awhile, there didn’t seem to be much else my son could do with this project. This isnt to say that there isnt more my son could do, he just wasnt talking about it as much.

I photocopied a couple of pages about carnivorous plants for him from a wild flower field guide I got for myself at the library, and we hope to visit the Atlanta Botanical Garden in the near future, which is supposed to have an impressive display of carnivorous plants. (Ideally I suppose it would be good to go while my son is at the peak of his interest, but going to Atlanta is an all-day family trip, so it’ll happen when it happens. However, this may be a way to revitalize a child’s interest and encourage him to dig deeper!)

Finally I asked my son, Is there anything else you want to do with carnivorous plants?  His answer was that he wants a sundew to add to his collection.  I told him wed get one, but I wasnt sure when.

Then serendipity happened again, and if you read my column last week, you’ll know the rest of this story. We went to Insect-ival, an annual event at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, and there was a guy there with two heaping tables of carnivorous plants! It was an impressive display! And he gave us some sundew seeds for free! That was really special.

We’ve been nursing those seeds for a while, and I gotta tell you, I’m not sure they’re going to grow. I’ve never had luck with seeds! If these don’t grow, I’ll find a sundew somewhere somehow, and my son and I will try to cultivate more carnivorous plants.

At seven-years-old, I have to remind my son to water them because I know he’ll be upset if he loses them. He still doesn’t talk as much about carnivorous plants, and I’ve put the drawings away, but I know it’s something he’s still interested in. He’s going to be happy about having the plants, caring for them, and whenever we go to the Botanical Garden, we’ll take a look at them.

I consider this a long-term project that will happen slowly and in spurts. Maybe hell continue the interest. Maybe itll peter out. Whatever happens, Im here to support him!

If he continues to grow them, and if we can get them to reproduce, he’ll become an expert in them himself. If not, that’s okay too. The kid has me hooked on them, so if he completely loses interest, I’m going to take over!

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 28, 2013

Book Review: Project-based Homeschooling by Lori Pickert

PBH book coverNote: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on February 27, 2013.

How many children realize that education is for them, so they can do whatever they want to do in life…?  ~ Lori Pickert, author of Project-based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-directed Learners.

Friends of mine know that I’m a fan of Lori Pickert’s book Project-based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners.  I had begun following her blog before her book came out, and it peaked my interest in this style of homeschooling that is based on the Emilia Reggio Approach, an educational philosophy for early-childhood that began in Italy shortly after World War II.  Now there are Reggio-inspired schools around the world.

I don’t like that Pickert titled her book with the word “homeschooling.” To me, it’s a manual for every parent who wants to become a better mentor for his or her child.  Though homeschoolers have the luxury of time, any parent can use the strategies in this book, especially since the work you would do with your child would have no time restraints.

If you want to understand how you can support your child’s interests and foster independent thinking and entrepreneurship, then you need to read this book.

Broadening our perspective about how our children should learn is a good idea anyway. According to Cathy Davidson, author and professor at Duke University, “65 percent of today’s grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet.”

I got that quote from an interview with Davidson on Mindshift, an excellent education blog, and one of her suggestions to parents is to have students embark on meaningful community projects. “Dreaming big, taking risks, and scaling back if and when you have to are fantastic skills. These skills are hardly ever taught in the school room….” she writes.

This sounds very much like the kind of learning Pickert writes about, though projects could be big or small. They could be shared within your family or outside of it. Whatever the size, they are going to give students a chance to direct their own education.

Adults and children learn best when they are studying subjects of their choosing, and with a good mentor, they’ll take their learning to a higher level and find ways of sharing it with other people. After all, teaching what you know to others is the final stage of learning.

What Pickert has done with her book is explain in an easy-to-read and practical manner what parents can do at home to ensure that children will take charge of their own education and gain essential skills. If that sounds far-fetched, I suggest you read the book.

Project-based learning (PBL) is for any parent who wants to be involved in their children’s education. What I found inspiring in the book is the way she insists parents must live the lives that they want their children to aspire to. After all, to be a mentor, you must be doing the work yourself.

One way to teach your children how to fulfill their goals is to show them how you work toward your goals. Your children will learn from your example. Your goals don’t have to be lofty – Everyone has work, hobbies or other interests that they can share with their children, and sharing your disappointments are just as important as sharing your victories.

In PBL, children chose their projects and make long-term deep inquiries into their chosen subjects.  Unlike traditional school where students have time restraints, PBL students can take the time they need to dig deep.  They could take months or years to complete a project. It may branch off into other projects.  Letting them make mistakes and learn from them is a key component in PBL.

As mentors, parents will be writing down their questions, reminding them of what they wanted to know, documenting their work, and most importantly, scheduling dedicated project time. You will ask them what materials they need to do their work, and you’ll make suggestions when they get stuck.

What you don’t do is take over the project or push your agenda on the child. That’s not easy, but Pickert gives practical advice on how to do it. I love how she includes lists of “things you might do” which includes materials you might have on hand. (Environment is considered the “third teacher” in the Reggio Approach.) She even suggests things to say to your children when you’re trying to get out of the rut of doing things for them.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten from Pickert is that parents need to pay attention (vs. giving empty praise) to what they want their children to do more of. By writing down their questions, recording their progress, photographing their work, hanging their artwork on the wall, you are sending them a message that this is meaningful work. If you do this (and don’t give attention to the less desirable acts), kids are going to want to do more of the good stuff.

After reading the book, I had many questions about how PBL would look for young children like mine, so I asked Lori if I could interview her on this topic. She said yes! Please come back next week for my three-part interview with Lori Pickert on Project-based Homeschooling for Young Children. (Yes, she’s so thorough I had to break it up into three posts!) Lori will also be available to answer your questions at the end of the interview, so I hope you won’t miss that.

November 8, 2012

Homeschooling Kindergarten: Teaching About the Weather

Like the solar system, the weather was one other subject I decided to introduce to my son to last year.  All others (besides reading and math) were child-initiated.  For this, I mostly relied on books from the library and our own book collection (see below for list of books).  For our initial lesson, I stuck to an easy topic: the water cycle.

  • I don’t do this often, but I printed out some coloring pages for the boys about the water cycle at Kid Zone Science (scroll to bottom of page for links to worksheets).  If I use worksheets and coloring pages sparingly, the boys seem to like it.  (In general, they have not liked coloring books or drawing with crayons very much, but it does happen occasionally.)
  • After explaining the water cycle to my then five-year-old, we boiled some water on the stove and watched the steam rise: water vapor!  Then I took a glass of ice water and held it over the steam until it started to condense: rain!
  • We also made a weather chart, and we kept track of the weather for one week.  My son wanted to make another chart and keep going.

{Unfortunately, that never happened, and as we were studying clouds, I began to take pictures of cloud formations and had the idea to make a chart about that. Again, this didn’t happen.  Maybe it will someday, or maybe it won’t. That’s okay. Now I’ll leave it up to my son to continue his study of the weather.}

  • Again, at the time, my son began to get interested in the weather, specifically about hurricanes and tornadoes.  He checked out several books on these topics at the library and wanted me to read them to him.  I also let him watch some footage about hurricanes on YouTube, and now he definitely doesn’t want to be in one!  (You’ll have to decide what is age-appropriate viewing for your child. My son seems to look at natural phenomena with a scientific mind, and they don’t scare him as much as it would have scared me as a child.)
  • We also watched a cool YouTube video about weather balloons (“High Altitude Weather Balloon Launch”), and my son wanted to make a pretend one.
  • After his pre-K graduation last spring, my mother-in-law wanted to get him a gift for a congratulatory present.  He asked for a weather station!  It was on our back deck rail for quite a while until our new dog chewed it to bits. :(  My son liked checking the temperature and rain level everyday, so I may get him a better thermometer and rain gauge at some point.
  • We also had a bonus when we visited the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago this past summer.  My son picked “Tornado Alley” to watch in their Omnimax theatre.
  • And, of course, we’ve had our lessons reinforced in classes at the Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, Georgia.

As you can see, all of my lessons are pretty easy.  I don’t rely on a curriculum.  I pick topics I think I should cover (that he would like) from a typical course of study for his age range.  I use library books, YouTube, worksheets if they seem to help, and then I let serendipity take its course. 

Having a brief lesson at home has helped my son understand and process these topics when we’ve found other ways to learn about them: in his classes, at the museum, on T.V. or new books that might otherwise not have gained his attention.

Teaching this way has not been a stress on me, and so far, I haven’t lost my child’s interest in learning, which is most important to me!

Here’s a list of books my son has enjoyed listening to me read:

  • Hurricanes, Simon, Seymour
  • Hurricanes! Gibbons, Gail
  • Tornadoes, Simon, Seymour
  • Scholastic’s The magic school bus wet all over : a book about the water cycle, Relf, Patricia
  • Weather words and what they mean,  Gibbons, Gail
  • I Can Read About: Weather, Supraner, Robyn
  • How does the sun make weather? Williams, Judith (Judith A.)
  • Thunderstorms, Sipiera, Paul P.
  • Lightning, Herriges, Ann
  • Down comes the rain, Branley, Franklyn Mansfield
  • The Magic School Bus: At the Waterworks, Cole, Joanna
  •  Clouds, Rockwell, Anne
  •  All the colors of the rainbow,  Fowler, Allan

What have you used to teach your children about the weather?

November 4, 2012

Homeschooling Kindergarten: Teaching the Solar System

There are a couple of subjects that I’ve been meaning to write about for over a year: how I taught my son about the solar system and the weather (which I’ll post soon).

Though I do child-led learning, I see nothing wrong in introducing some subjects to him.  When I consulted a list of what kids typically learn in Kindergarten, I saw the solar system was one of them.  I think it’s a fun subject for little kids. (My son was 4 ~ 5 years old when we did this.)

My philosophy is to introduce the topic to them and then let it go where it may.  They may not take it any farther.  They may want more information.  Or maybe they won’t seem interested, but a few months later, they’ll see something that makes them remember what you taught them, and they’ll have more questions about it.

I was also prompted to teach my son about the solar system because my step-mother told me she got him A Moon In My Room for a birthday gift.  I didn’t think he would completely understand what it was unless I gave him some reference for it. I think he was about four-years-old when we did this.

Prior to my lesson, the only introduction he had to outer space were the few episodes on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in which Mickey and his friends take a trip into space.  I think that helped him.

For my initial lesson, all I did was print some graphics off the Internet and laminate them, and I also used a box of space cards I had picked up for $1 at Target.  (Found a bunch of those in their dollar section once, and they have proved useful!)

It’s been a long time, so I’m afraid I cannot remember the exact words I used to tell my son about the solar system.  We refer to our globe frequently, and since he had seen Micky fly into the outer space, it wasn’t hard for him to grasp.

I laid the cards on the ground with the sun in the middle, and then I put the planet cards around it in order.  Then we walked around the sun card just like the planets orbit the sun, and we may have read a bit about the planets and space on the backs of the cards.

Little did I know, this would spark an interest in the solar system for my son.  He asked questions, wanted to check out many library books, and (much later) came up with his own project!  See below.

Following my short and sweet lesson, my son’s knowledge about the solar system has been increasing in a long and meandering way. (See Learning is like a Chain Link Fence.). We’ve done the following:

  • Checked books out from the library.  There was a time all my son wanted to do what look at books about the planets.
  • Looked up question(s) on the Internet. I think once my son wanted to know what was inside Jupiter.
  • Checked out the discovery box at the Sandy Creek Nature Center.
  • We happened to get bonus lessons about the solar system in my son’s knee-high naturalist class, and we got to go into their star dome. (And now we can’t wait to visit their new planetarium!  We have visited it, and it’s awesome!)
  • We’ve taken nighttime walks and gazed at the stars. We also bought a telescope for him at his request for Christmas, but *ahem* we don’t really know how to use it yet.
  • Now the subject doesn’t come up much, but occasionally I’ll send him an e-mail about space exploration, if I think he’ll like it. (The Curiosity Rover on Mars is providing some interesting photographs!)
  • I’ve saved the best for last.  Last year out of the blue, my son thought it would be a good idea to make the planets out of paper and hang them along a doorway of our activity room.  They are still hanging there.  This summer when my mother-in-law came to visit, my son could point to each paper planet and name them from memory.

Learning about something as vast as the solar system is most certainly a subject one could spend a lifetime on.  I don’t know if my son will continue to explore astronomy, but he has certainly made that first link in his chain of learning.

Here are a list of books we’ve enjoyed reading:

  • The Planets in Our Solar System, Branley, Franklyn M.
  • Solar System, A Golden Book
  • The Moon Book, Gibbons, Gail
  • The Sun, Spangenburg, Ray
  •  What Makes Day and Night, Branley, Franklyn M.
  • Mercury, Adamson, Thomas K.
  • Mars, Chrismer, Melanie.
  • The Big Dipper, Branley, Franklyn M. & Coxe, Molly
  • Zoo in the Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations, Mitton, Jacqueline

Please stay tuned. In my following posts I’ll talk about the discovery boxes the Sandy Creek Nature Center, how we’ve learned about the weather, some places we’ve been, how to make a terrarium and more…!

What have you used to teach the solar system to your children?

{Update January 2013: My son has continued to learn about the solar system and space exploration in a variety of ways, and recently he has had an interest in rockets!  First, he asked for a rocket for Christmas, and he got a small set of all the U.S. rockets. Then, we started a rocket project, but I’m not sure where it’s going to go.  We’ve read more books (just go to your library!), and right now we’re watching The Planets, a series about space on Netflix.  There’s also a series on the space missions, which we’re planning to watch. He also enjoyed watching this video of a tour of the international space station.}

October 1, 2012

Back to Homeschool Update

{Homeschool Schedule}  {A Day in the Life of Our Homeschool}  {Homeschooling Kindergarten / 1st grade with a three-year-old in the house}

playdates are a regular part of our homeschool schedule

At the beginning of September I wrote a column for the newspaper titled “Back to Homeschool” because we started our new school year and homeschool routine.  More notable, however, is that this is the first year that we are “official” homeschoolers. That is, we have filed our intent to homeschool with the Georgia Department of Education.

When I wrote that column I had a “plan of action” of how I’d proceed with our daily routine, but I wasn’t sure how it would look in reality. I’ve been a mom long enough to realize that things rarely go according to MY agenda, so having a flexible schedule is a must.

Now that we are a month into our new routine I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s going so well, though I have tweaked it as necessary.  This was my original plan:

  • We’re late sleepers, and though I don’t mind that, I also knew we’d make more use of our day if we got up a little earlier.  So I planned to wake up early and also wake the six-year-old by 8:30 so we could start our lesson by 9:00a.m.
  • I would e-mail my son a loose agenda for the morning the night before, and first thing in the morning we would check his e-mail and go over this agenda. (There’s more than one reason I’ve given him an e-mail address, and I wrote about this in Using E-mail in Homeschool.)  Telling him ahead of time what our plans are has always been essential to getting him to cooperate.
  • After checking e-mail and going over our agenda, I would start off with our main lesson. I planned to alternate a math and reading lesson Monday – Thursday.
  • On Fridays we would have a more relaxed day with just a project, and I also planned to move my cleaning day to Fridays and perhaps partly on Saturdays too.
  • After the lesson, we would do some kind of project either initiated by him or me, but it would be based on his interests or a lesson I want to teach him.
  • I thought by this time, it may be lunch time, so I planned to have lunch and then do “book time” after lunch.
  • After book time, he would be free for the rest of the day, although, of course, we still have other parts of our daily routine too.

As for the three-year-old, I was hoping I could keep him occupied at least during the math/reading lesson with a learning box I made for him.  I filled it with paper, crayons, and coloring pages, which he likes to do sometimes.

So how did that plan pan out?

Here’s what we have been doing:

  • I have been getting up a little earlier and waking the kiddo up a littler earlier too.  He can be very hard to wake up, though, so I’m not using an iron fist with this rule.  It’s my opinion that being able to sleep as much as we need to is one of the many benefits of homeschooling.  But after waking earlier for a few days, he’s starting to wake up on his own around 8:30 anyway.  It’s been good for me to have a few minutes to myself in the morning too.
  • Using the e-mail has been great, and my son enjoys checking it every morning.  An occasional message from a friend or relative is a treat too.  (See Using Technology in Home Education or Using E-mail in Homeschool.)
  • We’ve been alternating a math and reading lesson Monday – Thursday, and that’s been going great. My son has been showing his maturity by being able to complete the lessons, and mama has finally figured out how to stay at his level so that it’s not frustrating for either of us.  Keeping this lesson under 30 minutes and doing it first has also been a key to its success.
  • Having a relaxed day on Friday has been helpful too.  I’m struggling with keeping my house clean, but I think that has more to do with an illness I’ve had, and I’ll get back into a routine at some point.
  • Having a project planned has been working too, and so far, my son has liked everything we’ve done.  Though not completely “child-led,” the projects are inspired by what I know he’ll like.  In an upcoming post, I’ll list what we’ve been doing in more detail.
  • And as I suspected, it’s usually lunch time after we’ve completed our project, so I stop there.  The difficult part is fitting in “book time.”  Unless the project is short or I include a book within the project, we don’t have time for book time.  After lunch, the boys clearly need to be “let loose” to play, imagine and sometimes create, if they ask for the art supplies.  I’ve decided this is okay because unstructured play, movement and make-believe is still my highest priority for them right now.  We have found time to read books at other times, although not everyday.  Since my son seems to enjoy the spontaneous reading moments more than when I insist on reading to him, I think I’ll just leave it at that. (I should note that every night before bed, I still tell him a story that I make up, and I read a book to my three-year-old at that time too.)

As for the three-year-old, he’s not interested in the learning box, and this is what I’ve figured out:  whenever he wakes up, he needs a good dose of mama.  If I can give him my undivided attention for 20-30 minutes, he usually goes off to play by himself while I work with the six-year-old.  Sometimes he wants to be with us, and he might be content playing with puzzles on the table next to us.  Many times, I’ve been able to include him in our projects, especially those we do outside.  If he is in a particularly needy or difficult mood, I let go of my agenda and direct my six-year-old to work on starfall.com while I stay with the three-year-old.

Staying flexible and light-hearted about the whole process has served me well, and it’s made me realize that while we all operate better with a little bit of structure, I can also feel free to stay relaxed and yield to our whims on occasion too!

You may also be interested in:

  • In addition, I’m still keeping track of our homeschool with the method I described in this post.
  • To read about our homeschooling schedule last year when the boys were 5 and 2, click here. (We did everything after lunch!)
  • And, I’ve updated this post in Our Mid-year Homeschool Update….I have tweaked a few things since writing this!

How is your homeschool year going?

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