Thursday, December 29, 2011

Geek Presents

"So your kids are so smart...what do you buy them for Christmas?"


When people ask me questions like that I really wonder what they think we do with our kids. No, we do not sit at home and teach them least, not yet.

My answer was, "The same stuff other kids"

I guess in all honesty, some of the things our boys received this year weren't exactly what everyone else would be getting. They did get the usual stuff like LEGOS, NERF guns, and spy gear night vision goggles. But one of the biggest hits of the day happened to be the documentary movies.

JT received a new book of piano music. His playing has surged lately. Remember when we dropped the piano lessons? I wasn't so sure that experiment was going to work the way I hoped. Out of nowhere, about four months ago, he started working to figure out a song he wanted to play. Before I knew it, he was playing a couple times a day...on his own! Recently, he started trying to play a few of George Winston's pieces from the album December. I found this sheet music and knew he would love it. He generally plays by ear, but sometimes he has me play parts of a song for him so he can watch and copy. He never really reads the music. So maybe the book is more for me than him?

We also bought a few science related presents. We already own one pocket microscope, but I decided to get each of the boys their own. I'm tired of sharing! We are about to launch into our next science unit which will cover microscope studies and cellular structure. So these new tools will be needed.

We also threw in a few pet tornadoes to add to the fun. You may have noticed the increased volume of photos in this post. That is due to the fact that I received a new camera! I have to spend some time really getting to know all of its awesome features, but hope to start incorporating more visuals to my blog with its help.

Finally, I spent the last two weeks doing a little cat-sitting for a neighbor. I was told by the pet owner that I should spend the pay buying 'a little something for myself'. The little something is probably going to come from this page of microscopes. I'm leaning towards a stereo model, due to my own poor vision, but think the monocular may be better for upgrading to add a camera option in the future. Anyone who wants to weigh in with advice, feel free. I would LOVE to be able to get images from the microscope to my computer. Plus, I'd like to get as high of a magnification as I can. AND I'd like to stay under $300. That's why it's taken me so long to pick the right one.

Overall, Christmas was a big success. We plan to extend our vacation to the 9th of January. Until then I will be working to plan the science unit, get our health unit ironed out and come up with some organization of my civics material. We are looking forward to a fantastic New Year and wish the same for all of you!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Benefits of Public School

My husband and I were having a discussion about ways to help our boys understand certain math concepts this week. Every time I find what I consider to be an especially ingenious way to present something new, I realize if I were teaching classrooms full of students, I could take this knowledge and re-use it, honing it to perfection. As it is, I only get to teach the same grade level twice to one student at a time. This realization lead to the idea to write a post about the benefits of public schooling as a contrast to my post on homeschooling benefits.

Experienced teachers

I often feel like I am re-inventing the wheel when teaching my boys. If they were in a typical public school environment, they would have the benefit of teachers with years of practice presenting the same material. Teachers who have gone through training on how to deal with a kid who may seem like a math whiz until they run into multiple step word problems that make them declare, "I hate math!" Most times I can find ways to get around these hurdles by an internet search or a question posted to one of the homeschooling forums I follow. I also have a few friends who have very creative ideas on how to deal with learning hang-ups that I can call for help. At some point, I assume we will reach an obstacle that will require professional help. I know I can find a tutor or other mentor when that time comes, but because we are homeschooling, it will likely not be free.

Art Classes

We currently have both of the boys enrolled in art classes at our local Y.M.C.A Arts Center. Prior to signing up for these classes, I always felt that our art lessons were lacking. While we have spent a large amount of time studying art history and styles we didn't always try a variety of projects ourselves. Some of that may have been lack of supplies, but more often it was lack of motivation on my part. It's one thing to introduce a whole classroom of students to some new messy medium; it's another thing to drag it out in your own house for two young, less than tidy boys. Once again, we have found a good fix through the art classes, but there is the associated cost.

Science Labs

We are still a couple years away from a full-fledged chemistry class, but when it comes, I'm not sure exactly how I plan to handle the need for lab equipment. It would be so much easier to have access to a fully stocked chemistry lab! It would also be nice to have a variety of lab partners available for my boys. Recently we were at a local university for a Saturday Science program. While we were there, I spoke with two different professors about the possibility of enrolling the boys in a basic chemistry class when they were high school age. They weren't sure about the university's policy, so I will be looking into that as a possible option. If needed, I will buy what we need and maybe try to assemble a small group of local homeschooling families to hold a class together. I've also been hunting for the perfect microscope for our upcoming science unit on cellular structure and microscope studies. Wouldn't it be nice to have free access to a quality microscope like this one?

Free Extra-Curricular Activities

In Pennsylvania, schools are required to allow homeschoolers to participate in extra-curricular activities offered within their school district. However, we have had little luck getting involved in anything through our local schools. One problem is that the definition of extra-curricular really means only things held outside of school hours. Because of that, we were told that JT can't participate in the elementary level band due to the fact that instrument practice happens during band class within school hours. Some districts make allowances for homeschool participation. So far, ours does not. I'm not sure if we will be able to do anything at the high school level either. JT would like to play basketball with the school when he is too old for Upward basketball, but I'm not sure that will work out.

Free Text Books and Supplies

Most homeschoolers will tell you that there is really no need to buy expensive curriculum in order to teach your children. While that is true to a point, I find that there are some items that are almost necessary to buy. We were fortunate in that we spent two years with a cyber school that provided all of the materials we needed AND allowed us to keep everything. I have been able to re-use quite a bit of those things. We also spend a great deal of time at library sales, garage sales and other places where we can pick up low-cost items. Even if you only use free resources online, you might need to use ink and paper to print out worksheets. I know that some public schools ask the parents to provide supplies for the students, but for the most part, the text books and workbooks are free.

Child Care

Perhaps the one thing I miss most about the days when I had children in the public school system is free time. Don't get me wrong, I do love having my boys with me every day. They are also both fairly adept at entertaining themselves so that I can have time to myself to get things done around the house. However, just this week when I had to schedule an appointment that both I and my husband have to go to, not having the kids in school means I have to find a sitter. Very few people who sing the praises of public school will mention this most obvious benefit to parents. If the boys were in school, I would have the time to keep my house as clean as it was many years ago. I'd have time to take classes like I've wanted to for years. I'd have time to throw a day away reading a good book on the couch with no need to stop until that school bus rolled down the road at 4:25pm.

My list for the benefits of public schooling is about half as long as my benefits of homeschooling list. When I compare the two, I still feel that homeschooling wins hands-down for our family. Maybe I would have more money to spend on something other than science materials, maybe I would have more free time to spend on myself, but ultimately I think my life has been made far richer because of this adventure we have undertaken. Hopefully, when my boys are out and on their own, they will agree that we made the right decision too.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gimme Gimme

This time of the year can bring out both the best and the worst in people. Teaching children the joy of giving can be a wonderful lesson during the holiday season. But, too often Christmas turns into a chance for the 'gimmies' to take over.

I had already been thinking about this topic when I read an excellent post about Stuff on Defying Gravity. My family can tell you that I am the kind of person that doesn't get carried away purchasing material goods, books being the one exception. My one weakness aside, I can usually resist the desire to have the latest gadget, clothing or thing for my house. I'm fairly content when it comes to my stuff. My boys seem to operate along the same lines. Is this an inherited trait? Learned from observation? Or is it the lack of exposure to the usual gimme triggers?

Because we do not have cable, satellite or even the most basic of television reception, my boys have had very little experience with commercialism. The only times they witness television advertising is when we watch television while visiting the homes of relatives. We also spend very little time at the malls. In fact, online purchases made up the majority of my Christmas shopping this year. JT and EM like to check out the toy aisles when we are in Target, just like any other kids, but once they leave the store and those things are out of sight, they really are out of mind for the boys. Plus, without that daily interaction with large groups of kids their own ages, they don't have the kind of comparisons to make about what they have and don't have. I keep our Christmas budget small and they never seem to notice that we aren't spending the kind of money that other families we know are spending on gifts. It appears I have found yet another benefit of homeschooling!

This week I will be taking each of the boys out to do their shopping for our family. They honestly seem to get more happiness out of the giving at Christmas than they do over the getting. I hope as the years pass they continue to appreciate the simple joy found in sharing what we have with others.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tools of Power

I have a love-hate relationship with the book, Home Learning Year by Year, by Rebecca Rupp. When I start to worry that my boys might be 'behind' in a subject compared to 'normal' kids, I pull the book out to see where we stand. Most of the time we ace this little test. But sometimes I find that we're not measuring up in one place or another. I have never been one to worry too much about where we are in comparison to others. I want the boys to follow their own learning path with only a few defined expectations at certain points along the way. However, once in awhile I find a goal in this book that makes me say, "Wow! Why haven't I taught that to the boys yet?" I found one this week.

I was casually flipping through chapter four where the grade two requirements are listed. I figured EM should have most of these mastered since we consider him to be a third grader. We chose that designation mostly for the testing requirement that Pennsylvania homeschoolers must meet.

Under the Language Arts heading in the book I found this one:

Obtain specific information from print materials. Second graders should be able to use structural features of the text-table of contents, chapter heading, index-to locate specific factual information.

I remembered how both JT and EM were having trouble finding certain snakes in a book they were using recently. When I suggested they "look it up in the back of the book" I was met by blank stares. At the time, I just filed it away as something to work on in the future. But now this book was telling me that even a second grader should know how to use the index, etc. Time to get serious!

Both boys are fairly capable of using a dictionary to find a word. And I don't mean online...I mean a REAL dictionary. They are also familiar with the thesaurus. So, I pulled out a wide variety of reference books from our shelves; atlases, dictionary, travel guide, encyclopedia, Bible commentary, concordance, a textbook and a non-fiction book with a glossary AND an index. We sat down together surrounded by a wealth of information. I explained how the table of contents works in most books. We looked at the way the encyclopedias had an entire book JUST for the index. We saw how the concordance was split into sections with both the Hebrew and the Greek words. I showed the boys the difference between a glossary and an index. Then I asked each of them to find something for me using these tools. When we were finished with our lesson, it was hard to drag them away from the awesome maps in the atlas. In fact, it was hard for ME to put them away. After all, who can resist a good map?

Of course, you may be thinking, "These kids are growing up with the entire World Wide Web at their fingertips. Why not just teach them to use Google?" Call me old-fashioned, but I think it's important to know how to use all available resources when we are searching for an answer. And you never know...some stormy night, when the power goes out, and their smart phone is missing, they might really need to know the capital of Guam...and then where will they be?

Silliness aside, as homeschoolers we often talk about how we want our children to 'learn how to learn'. Knowing how to use these tools of power is the first step on that journey.