Our Approach to Learning

Hello. I am the mother to two energetic children and wife to an incredibly supportive husband. I have always loved watching the kiddos learn and grow as we experience life together. So much so, that in the fall of 2007, we began our homeschooling journey. I am having a blast homeschooling Sweetie (5) and Buddy (almost 3) in beautiful Central Oregon.

I am a National Board Certified Teacher and taught for 6 years in a public school (4 years as a middle level science specialist and 2 years in a self-contained 5th grade). Let me state for the record that when I decided to homeschool my children, I was honestly intimidated. All my teacher education had brainwashed me. I was convinced that parents couldn’t possibly teach their own children. It had to be done in an institutional setting… professionals with specialized training and expertise.

I happen to have a teacher’s certificate. But even now, as we have just begun our homeschooling journey, I have learned more academic material, more about how to manage individual relationships with children, and more about how to teach than I did in any of my teacher-education courses. Teacher-education courses gave me a great deal of good information on how to manage large groups of children. I needed that in schools, but a parent doesn’t need it to teach at home.

In our homeschool, we have a nature-centered “curriculum” and use a unique blend of materials and methods suited to our lifestyle of learning. We take our cues from the rhythm of nature and the children’s many and varied interests. We read a lot! As well as do lap/notebooking and many craft projects. We also enjoy photography, scrapbooking, cooking and traveling. We enjoy sports and participate in a variety of athletic endeavors (Taekwondo, dance, running, kayaking, swimming, etc.) depending on the season and what is happening in life.

Our approach to education is largely based on the classics with a heavy emphasis on reading and writing. It is structured around the trivium which comprises grammar, logic, and rhetoric as the tools by which a student can then analyze and master every other subject. Loosely, logic is concerned with the thing as-it-is-known; grammar is concerned with the thing-as-it-is-symbolized; and rhetoric is concerned with the thing-as-it-is-communicated.

It is largely literature-based, a little Montessori, a little unschoolish, a little unit-study, a little Thomas Jefferson, a little Charlotte Mason, but mostly just us! We call is us-schooling and it suits us just fine. We hope that you’ll join us on our journey. Feel free to join in on discussions, share your experiences or simply wish us well

Letterboxing – 1st Adventure

I’ve been wanting to take the kiddos on a Letterboxing adventure for several months now but the pieces have never seemed to fall into place. This weekend, we finally had an opportunity and what made it even more special is that DH was able to come along with us.
Before we headed out, however, we had an opportunity to see a herd of elk grazing in the meadow in our subdivision. Before development, the area was known for the elk and the local elementary school is even called ‘Elk Meadow’. Growing up on the coast, I have had many opportunities to see wild elk in their habitat (there is a preserve along Hwy 58 near Reedsport where elk are present year round). Yet, their magestic presence never fails to impress me.

For our first adventure, I selected a challenge that I hoped would be anything but challenging. I wanted it to be fun and rewarding… so I hoped we wouldn’t have to work too hard to find the treasure box.

I also wanted to utilize the compass as we’ve learned that the first compass was invented in China. However, Iwas only able to find one challenge with clues that included the cardinal directions (Go East of the Weeping Willow). I was surprised. Perhaps, I’ll check into Geocaching and do similar treasure hunts with our GPS…. but that may prove to be too difficult for the kiddos. We’ll see.

One of the unexpected challenges this time was the time of year – many of the clues related to plants and trees in full foliage. It would be more difficult for one not familiar with plant identification in the winter; as it was, I have had some experience.

It was a great afternoon. We are already looking forward to our next adventure and hope to make our own signature stamps soon. I’ll likely organize a small group of other kids to join us on this endeavor. We’ll see what develops.

How about you? Do you Letterbox or Geocache?

The Ki-Lin: An example of child led learning

Child led learning is an important component of my philosophy of education.  In such learning environments, children are not forced or coerced into learning. Instead, parents (and educators) work to follow the lead of their children, providing support, resources, and instruction, in keeping with their children’s wishes.  I am sometimes surprised at what directions their interests take them.

On our weekly trip to the library last week, Sweetie selected a number of books about unicorns. She has been obsessed with fairies, unicorns, winged horses, and other magical creatures for a couple of years now. It’s her thing.

qilinSeveral of the books talk of the history of unicorns and how the image of what a unicorn looks like varies from one culture to the next. They described the ki-lin (pronounced chee-lin), one of four mythical beasts of ancient Chinese writings, as a miraculous creature with the body of a deer, the tail of an ox, the head of a wolf, and the hooves of a horse. In Chinese tales, the ki-lin was said to be a solitary animal that lived in deep forests and high in the mountains. It never appeared to humans unless it had a special mission, like the gift of writing to Emperor Fu Hsi or to foretell the birth of a great man like the philosopher Confucious.

In the past few weeks, there have been several references to China in our readings and favorite television programs (I love Survivor and Sweetie frequently watches with me). As a result, she has become fascinated with the culture. Last night, she asked if we can learn about China in our schooling. She actually pleaded, as if she thought I might say no! She tells me she wants to travel to China someday and see the Great Wall. I would love to travel to China myself. I hope we can someday make this dream come true.

We’re off to the library again today. You can bet, we’ll be picking up books on China!  Where has child led learning brought you?

Updated 7 January 2008 – Upon completing our first unit study, Sweetie narrated what she learned for a special blog post.  You can read it here, I Love China.

Scary Halloween

The kiddos and I were at the Homestead yesterday. It was just us as the lead staff member was out ill and the other volunteer was away on vacation. All was going well… Sweetie was practicing spelling words as I spun each of them around. As they awaited their turn, they were standing on a table – the right height to give them a hug and spin. We’d done this a few times and stopped briefly as a visitor asked a question. I was standing right next to them and in my peripheral vision, I see Buddy step next to Sweetie in an attempt to hug her or tickle her as they had been doing previously. Everything happened so quickly but the next thing I know, Sweetie falls head over heels to the ground, landing on her shoulder.

She cried for a couple of minutes and I believed all was well again until I went to lift her onto the bed. In doing so, I unknowingly put pressure on her forearm and moved her shoulder up…which caused her to scream in pain. We packed up and headed home.

I tried to get in to see our pediatrician yesterday but there were no openings so we waited until this morning. During the evening, she kept it held closely to her body and didn’t want to change her clothes as it would require moving her arm. When she thought about it or if her shoulder was touched, she would cry. Otherwise, if distracted and involved in something (AquaDots, playing with a girlfriend at the Halloween party across the street, etc.) she was fine. I even caught her using her arm on occasions.

This morning, she showed me how she could lift her arms above her head and outstretch them in front of her. “I can go to Karate!” she exclaimed with excitement. She seemed to be fine – just a little tender to the touch. There isn’t even any bruising visible.

The doctor confirmed my suspicion and said to continue administering ibuprofen, occasional ice packs, and lots of love. She should be fine by Monday. She felt that the injury was mostly to her collar bone, and if in fact broken, there was nothing they could do anyway. It would heal naturally on its own. If she doesn’t feel better by Monday, then we are to give her a call and we may do x-rays then. Watching Sweetie, though, she’s been improving little by little already. I am confidant she be fine.

When I returned from the clinic, I received an email in which the Living History director has asked that we pull out of the program. I want to state that I completely understand where he is coming from. However, I have been volunteering at the museum for nearly 4 years. I would have much preferred to receive this information in person. An email is impersonal.

I am disappointed. He should have asked to speak with us in person. The kids don’t understand why they can’t continue to volunteer. Sweetie said, “I could have fallen at home, too.” It just doesn’t seem fair. My mom thought perhaps there have been concerns expressed by other volunteers or staff of which I am unaware.

We enjoy the experience so much. When I was teaching, I put so much of myself into my career… into the classroom. When Sweetie was born, it was very difficult for me to transition into a stay-at-home mom. I felt as though I lost apart of who I was as a person.

When I started volunteering (initially at South Slough Estuarine Reserve before we moved and most recently at the museum), I reclaimed that part of me. I became rejuvenated. The fact that I have been able to do it with the kids has made it even more special, more memorable.

It is very important to me that the children grow to appreciate the sacrifices that our ancestors made. That they grow up with an understanding of how our country has been built by strong men and women who have fought for their beliefs… who set out to create a better life for themselves and their children.

In today’s society, children frequently lack exposure to the outdoors, to a more sustainable way of life. Parents are not comfortable giving their children the freedom to walk a few miles away from home to buy penny candy at the local Mom & Pop or ride their bikes across town to a friend’s house. There are just too many dangers these days. Children seldom get the opportunity to explore the neighborhood woods, undertaking spur of the moment scientific inquiry. Questioning. Exploring. Learning.

This is one of the biggest reasons I chose to home-school. I want to provide that for my children. I am just so sad to lose this learning opportunity. I’ll just need to remember that when a door opens, another is frequently opened. When the time is right, if we are ready and open to change, new opportunities will become available.

** Edited 8th November 2007.

Learning Nonetheless

The kiddos and I met the COOL group downtown today to attend The Miracle Worker, a theatrical play about Helen Keller. It was an educational experience…. but not in the way you would expect.

When I was in the fourth grade, I remember reading a biography on Helen Keller and was captivated by her story. I started writing my name on my paper in Braille… Mr. Claska, my teacher, said it took him quite a while to figure out whose paper it was. This, of course, inspired me to complete entire assignments in Braille as well. I basically poked tiny holes in my paper using a soft eraser underneath so the hole wouldn’t puncture all the way through the paper… just enough to make a little bump. To accomplish this, I had to write out the dotted alphabet backwards, so when the paper was turned over and positioned correctly, the words would be spelled correctly and thus legible with fingers.

So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that a local theater group would be presenting the play. We borrowed several books from the library and read up on Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Sweetie added Helen Keller to her ‘Book of Centuries‘. We were both surprised to learn that she was born in 1880, the same year that we protray at the museum.

Before our arrival, I discussed with the kids my expectations for their behavior. Both insisted that they would remain quiet and seated throughout the performance. I even stooped low and said we’d go out for hot cocoa or ice-cream (their choice) afterwards if they indeed behaved themselves.

I should not have gotten my hopes up for no sooner were we shown our seats and Buddy starts to climb up and down the steps…. walk up the aisles…. investigate the restrooms…. bang on the seats… he just doesn’t sit still and to top it off, continually makes noises throughout the first act. I tried to pacify him with a lollipop but he devoured it in just a few minutes. At one point, he gets his foot caught and twisted between two seats as he is attempting to climb out of my lap and into the vacant seat beside me. He cries in pain. As soon as he calms down, an usher comes up to us and hints that we should probably leave if he can’t settle down. URGH! I decide not to try any longer and we pack up.

I am embarrassed once again (yesterday, his behavior elicted an ‘involuntary vacation‘ from the fitness center). Sweetie was very disappointed herself. I hated that his misdeeds were causing her to miss out on something she has looked forward to doing.

As it was just 10:30, we went to Costco for groceries. On the way home, we made a quick stop at Dairy Queen so Sweetie could get the ice cream treat she had been promised. Buddy was furious that he didn’t get to pick out a treat. When we got home and I proceeded to unbuckle him from his carseat, he kicked me in the chin. He thereby earned himself another timeout – buckled in his seat – as I unloaded the car.

I have had to remind myself that a lesson was learned today. Not the one necessarily planned but a life lesson nonetheless.

I am perplexed. I don’t know exactly how to approach his misbehavior. I’ve been using the same strategies with him as I did with Sweetie. Time-outs just don’t seem to work with him. I’ve tried taking toys away and he actually brings them to me… even his favorites. The Love & Logic strategies I’ve always used do not seem to work as well with him. He is just 2 1/2 years old… I hope it is just a phase.

Un-Nature Trail – A Scavenger Hunt

I volunteered to coordinate a monthly nature hike for the homeschool co-op with whom we’ve connected. My plan is to develop a hike around a specific theme or topic area and meet every 3rd Tuesday of the month (allowing for changes due to holidays, the calendars of potential resource specialist/guest speakers, etc.).

We gathered yesterday for the first time and seeing as it was the first time, I thought it would be fun to do an Un-Nature Walk or nature scavenger hunt. I’ve done them with my students in the past and have always had success. The students have enjoyed them and everyone is engaged in the activity … suitable for all learning styles.

nature walk

Literature Connection

These walks are designed to get the ‘learners’ to be more observant while walking … encouraging them to slow down and listen, taking note of small movements and sounds, connecting with their surroundings. So, to begin, we read The Other Way to Listenby Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall.

unnature walk

Un-Nature Trail

We then started our walk. I slowly led the group along a meandering trail on which I had intentionally hidden objects that would not normally be found in this area. Some objects were natural (flipper bone from a seal, Douglas fir cone, a pumpkin, shark jaw bone, sand dollars, sandstone w/fossils) and others were not (handmade pine needle basket, small stuffed porcupine). Some objects were concealed well and others were hard to miss. Some were placed on the ground while others were suspended from trees or within the branches of shrubs.

After the initial walk-thru, we all went through together as a group and I pointed out to everyone the objects that were hidden. This provided time for questions and discussion. Many of the boys were intrigued by the piranha specimen, the one object that most overlooked. 🙂

Most everyone found more than 12 objects (there were 16 all together). I obviously didn’t hide them too well… and perhaps more objects were needed. Nonetheless, everyone had a good time. Due to the cold (it was threatening to rain and many of us were shivering despite our layers of clothing), I opted not to extend the activity and provide time for sketching in our nature journals as I normally would. We needed to be moving around. To top it off, my little buddy informed me (non-verbally) that his diaper needed attention, anyway.

This activity is adapted from Sharing Nature With Children by Joseph Cornell.