A Slow, Different Kind of Education

Days are passing fast and furious, and I’m watching my boys grow up at a tremendous speed. My youngest son’s baby cheeks have completely vanished in the last few months. He’s so tall that he’s wearing the shirts his brother (who is three years older) wore last year. My eldest is becoming a young man too. When I listen to him play Chopin on the piano, it’s easy to wonder if this kid is really a twenty-year-old in disguise. But when he begins playing war games with his brother, I’m reminded that he’s only ten. Thank goodness.

They are growing fast, but when I plan lessons, I feel we’re slowly creeping toward the educational goals I have for them. We steadily work through each lesson and subject that I think the boys need right now, but there’s so much to cover that I don’t do everything everyday. Some subjects we touch on once a week. (Just yesterday I finally finished reading the young adult novel that I began reading to them in September!) It would be easy for me to panic a little, if I felt we had to finish everything by the end of this school year, but for me, an education isn’t carved up into years. It is ongoing like a meandering river. I think that the boys are greatly benefitting from going slowly.

This isn’t to say that I never push us forward or that we’re not progressing. We are. And it’s such a wonderful privilege to have a front seat view to my boys’ progress. But it’s a completely different kind of education from the one kids are getting in public school these days. Those kids are on a schedule. They have to learn X,Y,Z by a certain date so that they can get high scores on a test or pass to the next grade. Test scores reflect not so much on the kids as it does on the teachers and the school. In the end, it’s not really about the individual student, although I know that the teachers care a lot about those students. Teachers aren’t the problem, although I do think some of them are blinded by their own education. They think if a kid isn’t doing something by a certain age, then something is wrong. In my mind, I’m thinking, “As long as they know this by the time they graduate.” Or, by the time they need it in order to reach their personal goals or my (the teacher’s) goal (though my goals are based on my child’s readiness and not by someone else’s guidelines). When you think like this, it relieves a lot of pressure, yet it also lends a structure because we focus on certain areas until we reach a level of mastery.

I have met teachers who seem very skeptical at the idea of homeschooling. I guess I can’t blame them when I’ve seen examples of bad homeschooling, but I think it’s usually a good thing. This is because the parent is paying attention to his or her child’s needs. A child is in the best place when she is with people who support, love and want what is best for her. Sure, parents can make mistakes, but I think public school makes a lot of mistakes too.

The thing about homeschooling is that the homeschooled student can look very different from their traditionally-schooled counterparts, so people who are not familiar with homeschooling don’t always realize that this is a good thing. Homeschooled students may not be given reading lessons until they turn eight. Or I’ve even read about a kid who didn’t learn to read until the age of eleven, but she did learn, and later she had no problem getting into college. I’m sure that if the local teachers had met her before the age of eleven, they would have shook their heads and considered that a homeschooling disaster. But it wasn’t. The girl had a very good mother who homeschooled three children who went on to college. Her mother gave her more time to learn how to read so that the girl wouldn’t learn to hate reading.

Another difference about homeschooled kids is that they don’t always understand the latest “fad” that is spreading through the hallways of public schools. (Although, homeschoolers sure know a lot about Minecraft. They probably have more time during the day to play it.) Homeschoolers and traditionally-schooled kids typically don’t think the same kinds of things are “cool.” For example, when I was growing up, I thought classical music was boring. But now I have a 10-year-old who thinks classical music is cool, and he doesn’t care for pop music at all. Now, I’m an avid classical music listener. He’s taught me well, don’t you think?

Homeschoolers don’t really get the attitudes or unwillingness to learn that you see in many kids. As a college professor, my husband has said that some of his best students were homeschooled students. They would actually participate in his class discussions instead of trying to hide in the back of the room. Another friend of mine who is married to a professor has said her husband has noticed the same thing.

Why are homeschooling students like this? First, I think it’s because working hard is so much easier when you also have plenty of downtime. My kids don’t have to go to school all day and then come home and labor over homework. They get all their lessons done in about two hours, and then they get to work hard on the things that they care about. And second, there is nobody around here telling them that what they love is not cool. Young people who have to spend all day/everyday together tend to aspire to the lowest common denominator, and those who don’t are usually made fun of. At least, it was this way when I was in school. Has it really changed that much? I know there are schools where this doesn’t happen, and surely there are other exceptions, but I don’t think that the “herd mentality” is always a positive thing for our young people.

Third, it may be because by being at home all day, the kids see first hand why we have to work. My kids know how much home repairs and groceries cost. They meet a lot of people working a variety of jobs, and they are smart enough to realize which jobs they would rather work at someday. Critics of homeschooling say that homeschoolers won’t learn about the “real world,” but I think it’s the opposite. I think being locked inside a school building all day with people the same age keeps kids away from the real world. How many times have you heard older people complain about the younger generation’s work ethic?

Okay, I will come down from my soapbox. I didn’t actually mean to write a tirade — I meant to write a mid-year report on our homeschool! (I’ll still do that. I promise.)

I’ll just end by saying again that I love watching my boys grow and learn in a slow, yet meaningful and thorough, way. I follow my boys’ interests, and I follow mine too. I also think about the major topics they would be learning in a traditional school, and I try to incorporate those in an interesting way — in a way that suits these boys.

This is a slow, different kind of education. We are not racing to the end of a curriculum. Instead, we are absorbing interesting topics, learning useful skills, and building a more purposeful curriculum that meets the needs of our individual students. Personally, I think it’s pretty awesome, and I don’t understand why more parents aren’t homeschooling. But that’s their prerogative, and I will always say that a parent knows what is best for his/her child.

Please share how your homeschooled student differs from his/her traditionally schooled peers?

Happy New Year

20161107_122728_hdrHappy New Year!

Though 2016 was coined as a bad year by many people, and it wasn’t the best year for us either, I like to focus on the positive, especially when I realize that in the big scheme of things, I have a very good life. I am so very grateful for my family and the lifestyle we’re living even if it has its challenges. And for me, 2016 will always be the year when my eldest son blossomed as a pianist. I know from previous life experience that these will be the memories I carry with me and everything else will fade in memory.

I also found this wonderful thread written by Commander Chris Hadfield on Twitter about the positive things that happened in 2016. If you click on it, I think you can scroll down and read all 46 points!

Click here to read the entire thread.

Let’s hope that 2017 will be a great year!

 

Holiday Prep and Cheer

This is the first year we put our tree in the activity room.

December has been a whirlwind of activity, though I don’t think we experience the busy-ness that many families experience. We don’t spend a lot of time with extended family. Relatives either live too far away; or they have their own lives, commitments and interests; or both. The adults in my family don’t exchange presents either. But we still hustle and bustle to figure out what to buy for our own kids, each other, and a few others. So it’s never completely exempt from stress!

Although doing Christmas cards is not my favorite thing to do, I try to write out a few notes and letters because I much prefer getting real mail than an impersonal card without even a real signature on it. As such, I keep my card recipient list to a minimum, and sometimes I send out e-mails instead. Every year, I tend to do things a little differently, and this includes decorating too. (See below to see how we decorated this year.)

The 10-year-old sewed a Santa's hat for his little brother's favorite toy bird,
The 10-year-old sewed a Santa’s hat for his little brother’s favorite toy bird, “Chick.”

I’m grateful that the holidays for us mostly means the four of us relaxing at home, making ornaments and decorating leisurely. It means watching more documentaries and movies too. It means pulling out the Christmas storybooks, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll bake something too.

Unfortunately, this week brought illness to our house. My husband and 10-year-old are feeling very poorly, but somehow my youngest son and I have stayed healthy. I’m keeping my fingers crossed! I’m sad for them because for my husband, it’s not how he wanted to spend his vacation, and my son was also sick on his birthday this year. I’m hopeful that he’ll be feeling much better on Christmas Day.

black-capped chickadee
black-capped chickadee

At least, we have the next week and a half without any appointments or any commitments, and that feels pretty awesome to me. Our busy time was the first half of this month, and it was pretty special too because the 10-year-old performed in two recitals. The first recital was here at our house — I invited my dad, step-mom, two aunts and uncle to hear him play his latest piano pieces. (He played 13 pieces of classical music.) I made two kinds of soup, three loaves of bread, homemade fudge and a homemade apple pie. It was all delicious, and everyone enjoyed themselves, and I was so very happy to do this. But my son was the star of the show, and he wowed my family with his piano playing. Better yet, we’re going to try to do a family recital twice a year, and this experience reminded me how music can really bring people together, and I’m so grateful to my son for bringing music into the house. It was a day to celebrate for sure.

One week later, my son performed in his new piano teacher’s performance group, which is basically a recital. She does this four times a year, and what a pleasure it was to hear her other students and give our son a chance to perform in a supportive, relaxing atmosphere. And he played his four pieces perfectly! He was so proud of himself, and we were on Cloud 9 all day.

The 10-year-old painted this black-capped chickadee.
The 10-year-old painted this black-capped chickadee.

My youngest son is still fond of birds, so together with his brother and I, we decided to do something different this year. We kept most of Christmas tree ornaments in storage except for the beautiful balls. Then we decided to make the rest of the ornaments — mostly birds! So our tree is full of birds this year, and it’s so pretty and delightful. My eldest son and I did most of the work. He is very good at drawing and painting, so he made some pretty ornaments. My younger son gets frustrated with his handiwork and gives up quickly, but I think he had fun trying.

Birdhouse painted by the 7-year-old.
Birdhouse painted by the 7-year-old.
From left to right: cardinal sewed by 10-year-old, blue jay painted by me, starling painted by 10-year-old, and an American goldfinch I made last year for the 7-year-old.

And how can I forget — before we even came up with the bird ornament idea, the 7-year-old decided we needed more outdoor decorations. (All we have is a wreath on the door, but several of our neighbors have lots of lights and decorations outside.) He didn’t know the name for it, but he described it to me, and I realized he wanted to make an evergreen garland for our porch. He was determined to make it and not buy it, so I said that we could walk around our yard and see what we could find to use. I told him that we might have a problem though — we couldn’t cut too many evergreen branches from the trees or we might hurt the trees. So he was very conservative, and we picked just a few pretty pine needles, sprigs of cedar and a couple sprigs of holly too. This, of course, was not enough material to make a garland that would stretch across our porch.

I tried to work with his ideas as much as I could, but once he “got tired” and said he didn’t want to do it anymore, I made some big suggestions. (I have realized that when he gets “tired” that means he doesn’t know how to proceed and needs help.) My suggestions revived his enthusiasm for the activity, and he finished off the decorations with his very own ideas — to hang an ornament from them and to hang them from the hooks on the front porch. I think they turned out quite pretty, don’t you?


I hope wherever you are and whatever you celebrate (and even if you don’t celebrate this season), you are warm, healthy and at peace. I hope you’re with people you love, and I hope you’re engaged in activities that make your heart sing. I know many people struggle this time of year and throughout the year, but this is my wish for everyone. I would like for us all to live in peace with one another and share our unique gifts with each other. I hope everyone has someone else to support them in this.

Much love and thanks for reading. Happy New Year too!
Shelli

Autumn Musings

Ft. Yargo State Park

Autumn is one of my favorite times of year, and this autumn has certainly been full of interesting happenings both in my home and in the world at large. I have gotten a little exhausted at following the news and social media, so I’m limiting my time on that. While I’m disappointed with the election results, unlike so many people, I wasn’t surprised by it. I respect the democratic process, and I’m going to hope that things will be well. This doesn’t mean I’m not concerned or wondering what I can do. I am charged with the duty to raise my boys to understand that we must act out of kindness and love first and foremost. We also need to learn how to walk a mile in another person’s shoes so to speak, which I think many people on both sides think they are capable of doing, but they really are not. This includes trying to understand why others make the decisions they make and even why they decided to vote the way they did and not assume the worst of everybody. Even if that’s very hard to do, we must try.

One of my favorite posts I’ve read lately is by Jennifer L. W. Fink, who writes about what I’m determined to do better than I could. If you get the chance, go read How to Raise a Decent Human Being.

On the home/school/life blog, Amy also listed a few ways you can get involved with the political process with your kids, if that’s something you feel you’d like to do.

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The best way to live daily life, in my humble opinion, is to pay more attention to nature. Nature can certainly be cruel, but it helps me understand the world, humans, and that we’re part of something much bigger. Nature is also beautiful and inspiring, and that gives me solace.

Ft. Yargo State Park

On that note, we have spent some time out in nature a few times this autumn. For the autumn equinox, we drove down to Dauset Trails in Jackson, Ga. One other day, we spent some time wandering around Ft. Yargo State Park, and most recently, we went to Unicoi State Park to walk a lovely little trail around Burton Lake. The last time we walked that trail, my youngest son was in a stroller.

Our outdoor excursions are rarely planned. We usually wake up, realize it’s a good day to go somewhere, and then I frantically gather our things and get ready to go.

Barred owls (my favorite) at the Dauset Trails Nature Center.
Barred owls (my favorite) at the Dauset Trails Nature Center.

We also spend time in our yard, which is a haven itself. It’s fun to inspect what insects hang out around my son’s carnivorous plants, and to see all the leaves change color, which is happening right now in Georgia. And just yesterday, a gorgeous red-tailed hawk landed in the leaf litter right outside my bedroom window, and she stayed there long enough for my boys to come get a good look at her. We think she was trying to get a mouse or a vole, but she finally gave up. The crows and squirrels were sending out frantic warning signals while she was here too. It was quite exciting for us to watch!

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I feel like this has been the most academic year we’ve had homeschooling so far. I’m really enjoying it. That part of my brain that likes to organize and plan is getting a good workout! We do our lessons most mornings, and then the day is full of piano playing. My youngest son started taking lessons this fall, and it’s such a joy to hear him remind me that it’s time for him to practice! He takes this very seriously! He also tells me he only wants to learn piano up through “level 2,” and I told him that’s fine. Any music education benefits one’s brain. (I highly recommend following that link to a very cool video that will explain exactly how it benefits the brain.)

Dauset Trails Nature Center
Dauset Trails Nature Center

My 10-year-old has started taking lessons with a new teacher – his third teacher. It’s been quite a job to find the right teacher for our son who is moving so quickly to a higher level of classical piano. And finding someone who communicates with us well and whose schedule works well with ours is important too. If you are a parent who has no music background, there can be a steep learning curve when it comes to helping your children get the proper tools and teachers for their needs. It all depends on your child’s goals too. We have learned a lot, and I’m very thankful that my husband has been hands-on and so supportive of my son’s musical endeavor. I think we’ve finally got him in the right place, so I’m very excited and looking forward to the future.

Unicoi State Park
Unicoi State Park

One thing we haven’t been this year is social. This was kind of bothering me, but I’ve come to terms with it. Playing piano does not seem very social because my boys aren’t going to a classroom with other kids to take lessons. It’s a one-on-one session with an adult, but though this is different than our past extracurricular activities, I think it’s a great experience too. They are each forming a relationship with their teachers, working toward goals, and getting all those other benefits of learning music. As my husband reminded me, if they stay with music, they will eventually participate in music camps and play in ensembles, which will connect them to other musicians. We’ve already begun to take our eldest son to classical concerts and live music in town, and we’re starting to recognize some of the same faces each time in the crowd. Perhaps if we keep going, we’ll eventually connect with those people who so obviously care about classical music as much as we do. So I feel this is a year of digging into academics and music, and other opportunities will arise in the future, as they always have.

Unicoi State Park
Unicoi State Park

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On another note, I’ve been working on a few projects of my own, and this blog has been (and will be) quieter as I continue to work on them. First, I will write my grammar curriculum review for the next issue of home/school/life magazine, which will come out in January. Second, I’ve finished a rough draft of a little book about homeschooling first grade, and I’ll continue to polish it in the coming months. (I will be looking for some discerning writers to read it and give me feedback too. If you’re interested, please e-mail me.) I also have a few other small projects to take care of too.

In addition to this, November is my annual “decluttering month.” Every year I ask the boys to go through their toys and pick out what they don’t want to play with anymore so that we can give it to charity. This year feels like the SUPER PURGE. My boys have finally reached a point when so many of the toys that we have are not interesting anymore. My youngest son mostly plays with dinosaur and animal figures and zoob pieces. Legos are still popular around here too. But so much stuff is GOING, and not only toys, but books and clothes and homeschool supplies too. I am quite in awe at how my boys are growing and changing and becoming more selective about their play and activities. And I’m proud of myself for LETTING GO. 🙂

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If you have a question about how we homeschool or about our curriculum or anything else, please just ask. I am happy to chat by e-mail or perhaps write a blog post about it. I can always use ideas for what to write about, and I want to be as helpful to you as possible, so please let me know what you’d like to know. Besides this, your e-mails keep me going. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

How Will I Teach Writing and Grammar? And My Preparations for a Language Arts Review

You might think that a mom with a degree in English would have the easiest time teaching writing and grammar to her children, but that is not the case. When I was little, this was my strength. I wrote poetry and stories in my free time, and I never minded my English classes. They were my favorite classes, and I received good grades in them. I read every word of every book I was assigned, and I was the only one in my entire school who actually did the summer reading and wrote reports on those books too. (A shout out and thank you to my Aunt Carolyn for typing up those reports for me! I think she even included my errors so that my teachers would know I wrote them.)

To tell the truth, since I was good at writing, I can’t remember how I learned grammar. Even though I can write well, I can only tell you the most basic grammar rules now. I cannot diagram sentences. I’m still not sure what a direct object is. I do remember learning how to “brainstorm” and make outlines in school, and I found this helpful. I still use these tools today.

I am pretty sure I learned the most about writing by reading. I didn’t read obsessively, but I read plenty. I absorbed the words and learned how our language should sound.

But I still wasn’t perfect. In one of my favorite college classes, Dr. Weinstein would never give me more than a high B on my papers. This was so frustrating to me when I saw another woman (who clearly didn’t enjoy the class as much as I did) get a 98 on all her papers. What was I doing wrong? I went to speak to him about my grade, and he told me that I was a good writer, and he wished more students wrote as well as I did. But he wouldn’t change my grade. He didn’t say much else except that I overused the word “really.” (I still do. I have to edit out my “reallys.” Really, you should rarely, if ever, use the word “really” in your writing.)

While I was in college, I met a woman who was about ten years older than I was at the time. She was a student and a single mom and lived in an apartment across the street from the university. I complained to her about my grade on the paper, and she said that she was a good writer, and she would look at my paper for me. She invited me to come over to her apartment after my classes. So I did. I gave her my paper, and she sat down at her kitchen table and read it.

“Ah-ha,” she said.

She proceeded to go through my paper and eliminate extraneous words that didn’t need to be there. “And here,” she said, “Is there a better way you could say this in less words?” I thought a moment and answered. “Yes!” she said. “If you can say it simple, keep it simple!”

She helped me with 2-3 papers, and after that, I got it. I got it! My grades improved, and I have been a better writer ever since.

Now I’m shouting in my head: Why is it that no teacher ever explained any of that to me? I went through 12 years of public school and 2-3 years of college as an English major before I met someone who wasn’t a teacher but who was a better writer than I was and who didn’t mind taking the time to help me. It had very little to do with grammar. It had to do with word choice and structure. I had learned a lot through reading, and I must have learned grammar in school, but no one had ever gone through my writing with a fine-toothed comb. I was still trying to write with big words as many young writers try to do, and I used words like “really.”

As a homeschooling mom, I am now faced with the task of teaching my boys writing and grammar. If they were like me and loved to write, it would be easy for me. I would allow them to write and slowly but surely correct mistakes. I wouldn’t correct too much in the beginning because you need to let young children be creative and learn to love the act of writing without stymieing them. As they move into high school, you can be more nit-picky. As they were capable, I would assign books for them to read (mostly I would let them read what they wanted to), and we would talk about the word structure and grammar as we go along. If they wanted to be published writers, I would have a wealth of information to pass on to them.

Unfortunately, so far, my boys do not like writing or making up stories. (Well, they have a little in the past, but that was fleeting.) Right now, they will not put pen to paper unless forced to. For the most part, I’m kind of relieved. I am too excited to learn about all the subjects I thought I wasn’t good at as a child like science and history and classical music. Besides this, wanting to be a writer all my life but failing miserably has caused me so much pain that I don’t particularly want to raise another writer.

But I do want to raise competent writers, and I’m sure I will raise competent writers. This is because I’m not in a hurry. Like learning how to read, I believe learning how to write can come when a child is ready for it. If I continue to read to them and do short, simple lessons with them, I am sure we will slowly master the technique of writing. If I push it (like they do in school), I am sure I will raise boys who hate writing and think they are not good at it. Similar to what happened with me with math, etc.

Despite all this, I am still faced with that task of teaching them grammar because like it or not, you have to know grammar to pass standardized tests or college entrance tests. (Let me note that as an English major, I never had to answer any grammar questions in college.) And someone I was corresponding with made a good point to say that it is useful to understand the terms we use to speak about language, especially if one would like to study a foreign language.

As I mentioned above, if my boys enjoyed letting me take dictation or otherwise wrote on their own, I could slowly introduce grammar concepts to them, but they don’t like to write, so I came back to square one and wondered how I could do this without squashing their potential to love writing. I wondered if there were a curriculum out there that I would like to use. Unlike math or science where I have no background and most curricula are helpful, I knew I would be picky about this. So I decided to write a comprehensive review of language arts curricula for home/school/life magazine. I intend to do the best job I can so that you can benefit from this too.

These are the gracious companies who have sent me curriculum for my review:

Peace Hill Press, First Language Lessons
Winston Grammar Program
Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts
Lost Classics: Primary Language Lessons
Brave Writer
Institute for Excellence in Writing

These are companies who said they would send me curriculum, but I’m still waiting for it:

Learning Language Arts Through Literature

I am also going to include Grammar-land, which is a free download, into the review.

I’m writing this list here so that you can tell me if I have missed any curriculum that you think must be included in my review. Please note that I prefer secular curricula because home/school/life magazine is a secular resource, but if it’s not secular, and you feel secular homeschoolers would still appreciate it, go ahead and recommend it.

I can already see good things in most of these curricula, and I’m excited to continue to dig into them. I am open to changing my mind about how I would like to approach this subject with my children, but it’s going to take a long time to sort through them and collect my thoughts about them. I am also getting my boys’ opinion about each of them. I will let you know when my review is published in home/school/life.

Homeschooling 1st Grade Curriculum

This is my second time homeschooling 1st grade, and it’s so much easier. Once you gain experience homeschooling, you realize how little you need to worry about first grade, and you’ll already have most of the resources you need!

It could be that my youngest child is a little easier to work with too. Since he has the advantage of watching his older brother do lessons, he accepts it as part of our day. (He still groans about them a little, though.)

I spend about an hour with my 1st grader approximately 3~4 days a week on lessons that are just for him. Our curriculum is very simple, and we usually do one lesson or two pages at a time.

Reading

We started Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons again. If you want more information about this book, click here. Last year I attempted it with him, but it got too hard, so we stopped, worked with Starfall.com & the Brainquest Star Wars workbooks, and now we’re back at it. I think it’ll go smoother this year.

He is working through Handwriting Without Tears’ My Printing Book.

As far as language arts, I read many books to him. I’m not going to go into that here since I’ve written about our “readalouds” many times before.

Math

We are using the U.S. Edition of Singapore Math. We are almost finished with level 1A, and we’ll be moving into 1B next. These levels do not necessarily correlate with grade level, so you’ll need to read their website to see where your child should start, if you want to try this program. You’ll need to purchase the teacher’s manual, textbook and workbook for each level.

I have enjoyed using Singapore, and I think it’s a thorough program. I go slow, making sure we do all the activities, textbook, workbook and games, but I could easily go faster, if I wanted to. There is some prep time involved, but it has been pretty easy once I got the hang of it.

That’s the core of his curriculum! In the first grade, I don’t think we need to do more.

But remember: He joins his older brother for some work too, such as listening to books, memorizing the times tables, or watching a 15-minute educational video. We also watch science and nature documentaries everyday as a family. When I do art projects, they are usually for him because he’s the one that likes doing art. He also has had a long-time interest in birds, which I just wrote about.

This year, I also signed him up for a once-a-month homeschool nature class at the botanical garden. (I’m the one who asked the garden to create a homeschool class!)

Do you have a first grader? Tell me how that first year is going. 🙂

Project-based Homeschooling: It’s All for the Birds (in a good way)

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song. ~ Chinese proverb

seven-year-old's bed
Guess whose bed this is?

In past years, I wrote a lot of posts with examples of project-based homeschooling in our home, mostly because my eldest son was always making things. This year I have written only two! This is because both boys have been pretty singular in their interests lately. My seven-year-old, while he still loves dinosaurs, and he loves playing digital games more than anything in the world (and I know I should write a post about that), has had one on-going interest since he was what? Four? Five maybe? I’m not sure, but it’s been a long time. I wrote about his interest in birds and several projects he did a year ago in Project-based Homeschooling: Birds & Feathers

But this year, I have less tangible projects to write about, and that’s okay. Sometimes PBH isn’t about making things. Sometimes, it’s about playing make-believe or talking about an interest. Sometimes the doing may not seem educational in the traditional sense. Sometimes it’s a small observation here, or a short burst of activity there. Sometimes it’s simply loving something and enjoying its presence. But there does seem to be a slow progression toward a deeper understanding of the subject.

This is what my son’s love of birds looks like this year:

My seven-year-old's bird collection and then some. The one he is holding is
My seven-year-old’s bird collection and then some. The one he is holding is “Chick.”

His constant companion is Chick, an Audubon black-capped chickadee made by Wild Republic. Chick is carried around the house, slept with, and travels with us in the car. The only time he’s not within reach of the seven-year-old is when he’s lost (3~4 times so far), but eventually he’s found and restored to his owner. This bird is so well-loved that the sound it made died a few months ago, and it’s been washed and sewed up twice. We tried buying another chickadee, but Wild Republic has changed their products, so the new chickadee looks different, and the sound died almost immediately! (Not an experience we usually have with these quality toys.)

While no new bird has been able to usurp “Chick” in my son’s heart, this doesn’t stop him from wanting more birds. He’s always asking for one, and since we can find these birds in most museum gift shops, he has amassed quite a collection of these birds. He even wrote Wild Republic to tell them they should make a golden-crowned kingletand they wrote back, sending him two, complimentary birds!  The boys recently put all of them together on our sofa for a group photo (above), but believe it or not, a few of them are missing! lol

We’ve been lucky to see some new birds in the wild this year, and it’s always exciting to come across them in our travels, on our hikes, or in our yards. Both my boys are very adept at using the iBird app on the iPad to look up information about the birds, and my seven-year-old will sometimes sit down and look at this app for a long time by himself.

Loons are one of my favorite birds.
Loons are one of my favorite birds.

But as the facilitator of my boys’ educations, I do keep an eye and ear open for opportunities to support them, if they have an idea to do something. Or, if a special opportunity comes up, I pounce on that too. This happened twice lately.

When we visited Chicago in September, we went to the Field Museum. (We never not go to the Field Museum when we are in Chicago.) I remembered their fabulous Hall of Birds, so I told my husband we had to make a point of going there again because the seven-year-old was too little on prior trips to remember it. So we went there first thing, and we all had such a wonderful time looking at the birds.

Standing in front of the chickadees.
Standing in front of the chickadees in the Field Museum’s Hall of Birds.

When you have a little person in your family who loves birds, everyone suddenly loves birds. Then again, who doesn’t love birds?

Later during the trip, we encountered some fabulous birds on our walk through the Chicago Botanic Garden. Most of these we had seen before, but we never had such long looks at them before. We saw Mallard ducks, Canadian geese, goldfinches eating the seeds from large sunflowers, and most exciting of all…the black-capped chickadee!

Chicago Botanic Garden
Chicago Botanic Garden

Note: The black-capped chickadee does not live in Georgia. The Carolina chickadee lives here. However, when I looked up the difference, I found out that they look exactly the same. The difference is in their songs and the ranges they live in.

While we were walking around the botanical garden, the seven-year-old said to me, “We should read more about birds.” This excited me very much because so far, he hasn’t wanted to read much about them. I promptly reminded him that the storybooks I bought him for his birthday all featured birds, and in the back of those books, they had bird facts we could read about…..

***INSERT LOUD BUZZER***

Ahem. That was an example of me taking over my son’s project. This is not recommended in project-based homeschooling. And what did it do?

My son shut down. He said, “No! Never MIND.” And he wouldn’t talk about it again.

***Insert me shuffling away with my tail between my legs.***

What should I have said? I should have said, “Okay. What do you want to read?” And left it at that.

But I did redeem myself. Later at home, when we were getting back into our routine of doing lessons every morning, I said to my son, “You mentioned that you would like to read more about birds. Would you like to do that during lesson time?” I received an emphatic “Yes!” Then I asked, “What do you want to read?” At that, my son went and got a little, old bird guide that my dad had given to him. He was very clear that we would read the entries for one or two birds each day….birds he would pick out randomly. Then we’d move on to another, similar book.

This makes sense to me. At seven-years-old, my son isn’t ready to understand lengthy science texts about birds, but these short little descriptive paragraphs are perfect. He picked out what he’s ready for. So that’s what we’re doing, and even though it takes only five minutes, it’s a very exciting step in this long-term interest.

Please tell me what interests your kids today.