Homeschooling: Diving into Human History

bookshelf

I’m extra excited to tell you that one of the things I added mid-year are history lessons. If there’s one thing I’ve been wanting to learn more about, it’s history. šŸ™‚

Until now, history is something I have not worried about incorporating into our homeschool lessons for several reasons. First, I don’t think young children need a lot of history unless they are interested in it.** I doubt they will fully understand it or remember it. Also, my husband is a history professor, so IĀ knew we would get a good history education with his help. Indeed, he peppers our documentary-watching with relevantĀ historical facts asĀ needed!

Until this past year, my eldest son didn’t show much interest in history. We watch a lot of documentaries, but when the boys were smaller, they needed to be nature documentaries. They liked animals and nature, but documentaries about people were boring, and frankly, over their heads. However, this changed during thisĀ past year~year and a half or so. We have slowly begun to watch other kinds of documentaries such as science, engineering and history, especially those dealing with archaeology. So I saw more of an interest in history creeping up. It was at this time I made my big history timeline, and as we watched or read about historical events or people, we would add a tag about them to our timeline. But I still didn’t do “formal” history lessons.

Then, my boys began to play digital games that incorporatedĀ military tanks and ships, etc. In the games, they would learn a tremendous amountĀ about many, real military vehicles, and they soon wanted to know more. One of their Christmas presents was a big book about tanks, and they still study it everyday! This is one of their major interests right now.

My 10-year-oldĀ began asking questions about the world wars, and one day, I let him listen to his father’s U.S. history podcast about World War II. It was at this point that I felt we could start history lessons.Ā I considered doing American history first since his interests seemed to gravitate in that direction. In addition, I’ve been reading to them about Native Americans now and then for a while now too. But ultimately, with my husband’s help, I decided to go with World History first because that’s what I wanted to do in the first place, and we happened to find some very coolĀ books that we both loved. (I want to give a shout out to my online friend, Kristina Daniele, for sharing her history resources with me. She helped me get started in my search for history resources that would appeal to my young boys.)

What’s exciting about studying history as a homeschooler is that we can start at the beginning and spend time delving into each era, and we don’t have to stop. In public school, I got bits of history in each grade, but I only remember the big eventsĀ of American history.Ā I know I never studied ancient humans or ancient Egypt. I know I never understood “the big picture” ofĀ the human timeline (until now). I am sure when my boys are adults, they will have forgotten a lot of our history lessons too, but that’s why I made the history timeline, I’m going slow, and in high school, we’ll circle around to the beginning again. Even if they don’t remember the finer details, they are going to understand the big pictureĀ of human history.

I’m going to write in more detail about our history lessons as we come to each unit. But below is a blueprint of how I’m getting started and what I’m using for our “spine.”

I am using my husband’s history lectures as a “spine” or guide. Even though his podcasts are for college level students, they are short, and my boys can understand most of what he’s saying. I use the “keyĀ terms” he lists under the lectures as a guide when I’m searching for additional books at the library. I don’t try to get a book on everything, but for example, under “Mesopotamia,” one of the key terms is “Epic of Gilgamesh.”Ā When I looked up Mesopotamia in the library search engine, I found a storybook for kids about the Epic of Gilgamesh — that’s a nice supplement toĀ our studies on Mesopotamia!

We also bought three history textbooks that we’re reading as we go along too. My husband gets a lot of free college textbooks to review, but we obviously needed books that would appeal to young kids. Finding the perfect world history text for kidsĀ didn’t prove easy!Ā My husband and I spent some time searching for books on Amazon, and I checked these out from the library before we bought them. I’m going to list them in order of our preference.

The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia — This is our favorite. It’s a beautiful book with rich photographs and illustrations, and it has all the relevant information in it that we’re looking for. However, this is not meant to be an in depth look at history. Like my husband’s podcasts, it can be used as a starting point. For example, “Ancient Egypt”Ā covers a two-page spread. Still, this is the kind of overview that kids would be getting in a world history class, and you can pause wherever you like and get more books from the library about each section. (This is a perk of homeschooling — no rushing through a curriculum!) As we get further into this book, I’ll be able to tell you more about it.

The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History — This is a great book too with beautiful illustrations and photographs. It doesn’t have quite as many details as the Kingfisher, but it covers everything and then some. We bought this intending to let our son read it on his own. Usborne considers “World History” to also mean “Earth’s History,” and it begins with about eighty pages dedicated to prehistoric time, what fossils are, and evolution, etc. When I think of “World History” I tend to think of that as “Human History,” which is what they do in school.Ā But that makes little difference, and there is something to having the “big picture” laid out in one book. However, we’ve already learned so muchĀ about Earth’s historyĀ through our science interest that we already know this information.Ā So I’m not requiring my son to read those first eighty pages unless he wants to.

The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer — We are well aware of the criticisms of these books, but having looked at the first one, we decided we would try it because learning about history through story form might interest our sons. As a history professor, my husband reviews many college level textbooks, and he tells me that many of them have biases. The point is that you should never use just one text as your information source just as you should never use oneĀ media outlet for all your current news.Ā By studying many different resources, you will be more informed and better able to find mistakes or biases, and learning how to do that is a good learning lesson in itself.Ā We have not gotten very far into SOTW, and my 10-year-old doesn’t love it, but I think my 7-year-old liked it better. I am not sure we’ll continue with these books, but I’ll let you know.

As we get to each section of our history curriculum, I plan to write short posts about what we’re reading for each. For example, right now we’re studying Ancient Egypt, so I’ll tell you what books I found for that soon.

If you have any history resources you love, please tell me about them in the comments.

**Note: My seven-year-oldĀ is less interested and perhaps doesn’t understand the history I’m teaching as much as my 10-year-old. However, I usually ask him to try to listen, but if he’s really bored, I don’t make him. I think he picks up on quite a bit, however. At this point, I’m not requiring any written work. We’re just enjoying readingĀ about history.

 

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 wasnā€™t surprised by it. I respect the democratic process, and Iā€™m going to hope that things will be well. This doesn’t mean Iā€™m notĀ 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 personā€™s shoes so to speak, which I think many people on both sidesĀ 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 Iā€™ve read lately is by Jennifer L. W. Fink, who writes about what Iā€™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 processĀ with your kids,Ā 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 weā€™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 itā€™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. Iā€™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 itā€™s such a joy to hear him remind me that itā€™s time for him to practice! He takes this very seriously! He also tells me he only wants to learn piano up through ā€œlevel 2,ā€ and I told him thatā€™s fine. Any music education benefits oneā€™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 ā€“ his third teacher. Itā€™s been quite a job to find the right teacher for our son who is moving so quickly to a higher level of classicalĀ 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 childā€™s goals too. We have learned a lot, and Iā€™m very thankful that my husband has been hands-on and so supportive of my sonā€™s musical endeavor. I think weā€™ve finally got him in the right place, so Iā€™m very excited and looking forward to the future.

Unicoi State Park
Unicoi State Park

One thing we havenā€™t been this year is social. This was kind of bothering me, but Iā€™ve come to terms with it. Playing piano does not seem very social because my boys arenā€™t going to a classroom with other kids to take lessons. Itā€™s a one-on-one session with an adult, but though this is different than our past extracurricular activities, I think itā€™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. Weā€™ve already begun to take our eldest son to classical concerts and live music in town, and weā€™re starting to recognize some of the same faces each time in the crowd. Perhaps if we keep going, weā€™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, Iā€™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, Iā€™ve finished a rough draft of a little book about homeschooling first grade, and Iā€™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 youā€™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 ā€œdecluttering month.ā€ Every year I ask the boys to go through their toys and pick out what they donā€™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. šŸ™‚

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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. šŸ™‚ Thanks for reading.

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 firstĀ 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, heĀ accepts it as part of our day. (He still groans about themĀ 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.Ā Our curriculum is very simple, andĀ we usually do one lesson or two pages at a time.

Reading

We startedĀ Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy LessonsĀ 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,Ā and now we’re back at it. I think it’ll go smoother this year.

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

As far as language arts, I read many books to him.Ā 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 IĀ 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.Ā 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 homeschoolĀ class!)

Do you have a first grader? Tell me how that first year is going. šŸ™‚

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. ~Ā Chinese proverb

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

In past years, I wrote a lot of posts with examples ofĀ project-based homeschooling in our home, mostly because my eldest son was alwaysĀ 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 IĀ shouldĀ 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 inĀ Project-based Homeschooling: Birds & Feathers.Ā 

But this year, I have less tangible projects to write about, and that’s okay. Sometimes PBH isn’t aboutĀ making things.Ā Sometimes, it’s aboutĀ playing make-believeĀ or talking about an interest.Ā 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.Ā 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 isĀ 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 madeĀ 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 RepublicĀ to tell them they should make a golden-crowned kinglet,Ā and they wrote back, sending him two, complimentary birds!Ā  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 ideaĀ to do something.Ā 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 neverĀ notĀ go to the Field Museum when we are in Chicago.) I remembered their fabulous Hall of Birds, so I told my husbandĀ 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 aĀ little personĀ 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 toĀ 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.Ā 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.Ā 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.

Project-based Homeschooling: Angry Birds – You Never Know

I don’t know much about the Angry Birds game except that it used to be my son’s favorite game when he played on his dad’s Nexus, and when I sat down to watch him play, it seemed absolutely silly. But hey, it’s not for me. It’s for him, and I’m glad he’s having fun. I don’t have a problem with screen time, and while we do enforce some limitsĀ (it’s just part of our daily routine),Ā our day’s overall screen time is definitely higher than what most conscientious parents prefer.

It’s really cool, however, when I see his interest in a game turning into a little project. All on his own one day, he made these angry birds and their raft. (Note: He already had access to all the materials he needed, and he knew how to use them, so he didn’t need anything from me.) How cool is that? Now the game doesn’t seem so silly, huh?

Never dismiss, restrict or belittle your child’s interest. Ask questions, nurture it, and it may blossom into something productive and cool! You never know!

Homeschooling: Our 1st Grade End of Year Review and Progress Report

homeschool review-1{Homeschool Progress Report} {Free Printables}

Like everything in our homeschool, our end-of-year reviews are evolving. I know that eventually I’ll settle into a way of doing this that sticks. I think this year was a winner.

When my son was preschool age, I decided to go ahead and use grade levels despite the fact that I know they are arbitrary — yet not so arbitrary if I can pick a grade that I feel best suits my son’s level and then not be rigid about keeping him in that level for all subjects. I simply use it as a frame of reference for myself as I plan our few formal lessons, and I think there’s nothing wrong with letting him feel a sense of accomplishment as we close out one year and start another.

When he was little I did a Pre-K “graduation,” but afterwards, I felt that was overkill. I wanted to mark the end of our years, but I didn’t want to attach a heavy meaning to it like a graduation each year. That would detract from the real graduation when he’s 18 years old.

Last year I decided we would simply call it our end-of-the-year review. As project-based homeschoolers, I find this review to be another way of reminding my son about those things he has shown interest in. If he sees it and says, “Oh yeah! I want to do that again!” we can work on that project some more. If not, it’s a nice closure to the project.

Before the review, I prepared the legal stuff I’m supposed to do for the state of Georgia even though we are only required to keep it for our files. That’s an end-of-the-year progress report. I know that many people wonder how to write these progress reports, and really, you can do it any way that you want! But if it helps, Iā€™ll let you view my sonā€™s first grade report. (Iā€™ve removed his name from it, and Iā€™ve created links back to each topic that Iā€™ve written about on this blog, if you want more detail about something.) Thereā€™s also a blank progress report on my free printables page for you to adapt to your needs, if you want to.

(For more details about the Georgia law on homeschooling, see this documentĀ I created: Georgiaā€™s Kindergarten and Homeschooling Laws.)

For my own pleasure I also keep a book list, and I used a three-ring binder to keep my daily charts and any paperwork my son did for the year, including the progress report. In the binder I also put any receipts for classes or pamphlets of the places we’ve visited. The binder or portfolio does not document our whole year, however. I would say my blog is the best-detailed documentation of what we did, and the progress report is a nice summary.

Our end-of-the-year review is for fun, and the main thing we do for that is view a slideshow ofĀ the past year.

So far each year I have created a slideshow of everything my seven-year-old did over the year. It was so fun to review his projects and creativity as well as the hard work of formal lessons. I included our field trips, his classes, camps and everything that had to do with his “homeschool.”

This year I had a hard time getting started with the slideshow. I couldn’t figure out what format I wanted to use, and I kept thinking, “Why is this so hard?” Then it occurred to me that making a slideshow of the 7yo’s work wasn’t relevant anymore. My 4yo has been accomplishing quite a bit lately, and even though he’s not “officially” homeschooling, I needed to include him.

And then there were all the family snapshots and vacations pictures. When am I ever going to get around to putting those in something the family can view and enjoy?! To be honest, I’m the only one who has even seen all the pictures I’ve taken! …for many years! I am just too busy to do anything with the photos other than the few I use online.

It’s so silly I didn’t think of this sooner, but I decided to make a slideshow of our whole year. Badly exposed family snapshots, trips, projects, hiking, home life, the wildlife we found in our yard and elsewhere and the books my son has used for his homeschool. Because all of life is learning, right? It was a massive slideshow over 45 minutes long. I was worried it was too long, but my husband and the boys loved it, and they even reminded me of things I needed to add. So, I think this will continue to be my “summer project” each year.

I also give my son a certificate of completion for the year, and this year I felt the four-year-old might feel left out if I didn’t do something for him, so I made him up a little certificate too. I also like to give my boys a small present, but I want it to be something to encourage their interests and learning:

  • For the seven-year-old, who is still slowly learning to read, I bought him the books he seems the most interested in reading, which are some comic-style Lego books about various super heroes as well as some Ninjago books. (Iā€™m happy to see he really loves them, and heā€™s even looking at them when weā€™re not doing our lessons!)
  • For my four-year-old, who loves to cook with me, I bought him some wooden spoons that would be just for him to use, and I promised him we would cook together more this year. (That’s something I still need help getting motivated to do!)

So, here’s a summary of how we mark the end of our years. I put in bold what the family sees. Everything else is what I do behind the scenes!

  • I have no particular date we do this. “Sometime in the summer” is the best I can do.
  • I prepare the end of year progress report required by the state of Georgia. To see a blank example of how I do our report, which you are free to download and adapt to your needs, and all these other print-outs I use, see my free printables page. To see this year’s report, click here.
  • I print out the progress report and book lists, and I put them into a 3-ring binder that Iā€™ve kept for the year along with the daily charts I keep, loose paperwork my son has done, pamphlets for field trips, receipts for classes, etc. (None of that is required by Georgia law. I do it because I’m an organization freak because I want to.)
  • I prepare a slideshow of our past year for the family to view and enjoy one afternoon.Ā 
  • I prepare a certificate of completionĀ for my sonā€™s year and give himĀ a small gift to encourage his interests.
  • I put the past yearā€™s portfolio in storage, and I prepareĀ a new binder for the new school year. (Iā€™ll probably keep binders for about three years since Georgia requires we keep our records for the past three years.)

I’m not doing anything special to mark the beginning of my son’s 2nd grade year. We simply continued with the light summer routine consisting mostly of reading lessons. I will add a few other lessons in early September, but other than that, I consider our end-of-year review a nice occasion to review and remember all the fun we had this year, clear off my desk, put away the binder, and continue on withĀ the next year.

What do you do to mark the end of your school years?

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.Ā 

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.] HeĀ 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. Ā 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 askĀ 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.Ā 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.Ā 

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 mushroomsĀ here with you in this slideshow. Aren’t they beautiful and amazing?!

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What are you learning about today?