Category Archives: history

Transitions

I’m not ready for summer to end. Nope, not at all. Winter here was cold and snowy and dragged on and on well into spring. My oldest didn’t get out of school until the last week of June. He starts up again tomorrow, and our youngest will be joining him, trying out kindergarten. I have all sorts of mixed feelings about this. My heart is in homeschooling and all the serendipitous connections and freedom it allows. Watching my kids learn is amazing. I am sad about the academic-looking daily schedule we received that has no block labeled “playtime,” the 20 minutes allotted for lunch, the increased demands placed upon younger and younger children. But my extroverted girl wants to try it, so I’m swallowing my tongue, practically, at times and giving it a go.

On the plus side, I’m hoping our middle child thrives with the focused parent time with no sibling distractions. He’ll still be home, and he’s most excited about our new microscope.

new microscope at amyhoodarts.com

After looking at a few choices for science curriculum, he decided upon R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology, and I’m super excited. I’m also impressed with the scope of what it covers, and how. (I have a degree in Wildlife Biology and took college courses in ecology, genetics, biology, and botany.) He’ll be using this microscope quite a bit.

at Beavertail State Park at amyhoodarts.com

He already knows a lot about ecology and habitats because of the things we like to do.

He also requested a curriculum to improve his spelling. He told me he’d enjoy writing better if he didn’t have to ask me to spell so many words for him. He had spelling lists in kindergarten and first and second grade while schooled, and predictably, he wasn’t at all interested in rote memorization of spelling words at that age. I don’t feel it’s developmentally appropriate, and felt that spelling would either come around as he gained mastery of reading, or he’d be motivated to improve it himself. And lo and behold, he is. After looking at several options, I chose Sequential Spelling.

We’ll be continuing to use Story of the World (we’re up to Volume 3) and A History of US for history, and Singapore Math for math. He reads voraciously, and writing happens organically. We’ll also be setting aside time for projects.

way up high at amyhoodarts.com

He loves to climb.

This spring and summer, we’ve been learning more about what makes our middle child tick and where he could use some extra support. Slowly, we’re building ourselves a village to help with this. It was suggested that I attend this seminar on executive functioning, and I have to say, I’m looking forward to it. Not the long drive or the long day, but getting useful information that I can implement at home, definitely. I’m glad we have the resources to send me to it.

So that’s where I’m at–sad that summer is ending, that it was so short, but trying to get in gear for a new season. I’m not happy about the shortening days, the crispness to the morning air, the signs of impending coldness and darkness. It feels like we only just emerged from winter! But I’m optimistic about what N and I can accomplish without distractions, and hopeful that my daughter enjoys kindergarten (because she is so excited about it) and that my oldest is finally challenged now that he’s in 7th grade. Transitions.

Homeschooling Plans

This photo has nothing to do with this post. It’s just nice to look at.

As we ended our first year of homeschooling my middle child, much was up in the air (my least favorite place to locate things). So I put off planning too much and took a wait-and-see stance for a while. But we’re now definitely homeschooling this year, too, and a few things have fallen into place.

We’ll be continuing with Story of the World as our spine for history, and when our world history gets up to the Age of Exploration, I expect we will start with the first book in A History of US, by Joy Hakim. We’ll also continue with her science text, The Story of Science, supplemented with hands-on science as we go along, primarily based on interest.

Last year for math I used Life of Fred; I talk more in depth about my gentle approach to math here. This year I feel he’s ready to move into something more rigorous, and I’m going back to Singapore Math, which I used for my eldest. It gave him a great foundation in math. We’ll take it as slowly as necessary, and of course real-life math is a part of our days. I’ve noticed my middle child likes to explain his thinking process in his own way. I’ve learned to be quiet and let him have the time he needs to explain what he’s figured out on his own about whatever math concept he’s been thinking about. He doesn’t want to hear me say it; he wants to get there on his own. His train of thought is not necessarily the school/textbook train of thought, but if he gets to the same station in the end, I don’t really care.

My 9yo also came out of school really not enjoying writing at all. I gave him space on that last year and didn’t push it, hoping he’d come around. He had fits and starts but no regular interest. This is something I don’t want him to abandon entirely, so this year we’ll be using the Brave Writer curriculum. He is in the Partnership Writing age group, and I assured him I’d be doing the same writing exercises as he. Actually, I was surprised by his response when I told him we’d be using a writing program this year. A year ago, I’m sure he would have protested immediately. This year, he said okay, as long as it wasn’t like the writing he had to do in school. We each bought three new notebooks: one for copy work (from the Arrow portion of the program), one for lists (because lists are fun), and one for Friday freewriting.

We’ll continue to start our mornings reading aloud together, whether it’s the book for that month’s Arrow or other books. And we will get more focused about project work, which kind of fell by the wayside this spring and summer. I’m enrolled in Lori’s Project-Based Homeschooling Master Class, which begins this week. I expect it will get me more focused and on track to get even better about mentoring my kids’ interests. I’ve already gotten a head start by beginning to tackle our studio space to get rid of some accumulated stuff and improve ease of use. I have my eye on the office/play room too, which has never been used well. (It tends towards entropy.) My hope is that by signing up for the first session of the class, I can take advantage of the natural beginning-of-school-year momentum and keep that ball rolling all the year through.

A big change from last year is that I’m taking a break from our homeschooling co-op, at least for the fall session. This was a hard decision, but several families with older kids left, leaving no offerings for my 9yo’s age and interests except a class I was teaching. I looked at the two classes I was to teach and the effort and time required (which is considerable, because I don’t use a prepackaged curriculum but instead plan as I go based on the students I have), versus what my son would be gaining, and decided it wasn’t the best use of my energy right now. I’ll miss the other moms, but given some challenges at home this winter and spring, I am wary of overextending this fall. My energies need to go to my own kids and family first, my own self-care (running, exercise class, and hopefully art classes), and my work (both shop and classes).

And those are our homeschooling plans, which look quite comprehensive when I write them all out. My biggest challenge, I think, will continue to be that my 9yo and 4yo bicker. They love to play together, but they experience quite a bit of friction, too. My second biggest challenge is that my oldest is in school, so I have to juggle a homeschool rhythm AND a school schedule, and those often work at cross-purposes. Also, I realize I haven’t mentioned plans for my 4yo at all. She’ll do what her older brother does, because she won’t have it any other way. She is practically teaching herself…she is writing more and more, copying down words and reading them back to me, making up her own math games….homeschooling a preschooler is easy as pie, in my opinion. She is also a pro at project work; she just needs her mama to get back to being a good mentor.

We all have our work this school year! I think it’ll be a good one, though. The second year of anything is always a little easier than the first.

Project Shelf

Inspired by Kate at An Everyday Story, I cleaned off an existing shelf in the living room in order to display some project creations.

I already talked about G’s map of Egypt and N’s cartouche and cat statuette, in the claywork post. I’m happy to report N’s cat stayed together just fine; we had to glue one paw back on. I haven’t talked about G’s mummy or the pyramid, which she created after the mummy, because that’s where mummies go. No matter the mummy and pyramid aren’t to scale; not the point. She cut out the base and triangles (using guides), let them dry, and then glued them together. It’s all a bit fragile, but it’s a pyramid. N also has plans to make a pyramid, but I needed to get more clay (which I did, over the weekend), and now I’ve commandeered the art table for a day or two to sew a Halloween costume. (We are challenged by needing to share project work space.)

The mummy was created early on in our project work, beginning in early September, and despite all good intentions I haven’t shared about it yet. When I told the kids my job was to make sure they had the materials necessary for their work, G jumped right on that. One morning she told me she had “a mummy in her head” and she would need paper, drinking straws, and paper towels. I provided these, and she asked for other items as the need arose.

Working on her mummy

She drew a sad face on her mummy. “He’s sad because he’s dead.”

(It’s hard to photograph white against white, and I used my phone for some of these.) When her mummy was complete, which took time as she worked out how she wanted the various pieces (including the straws; they’re in there too) to go together, she used the paper towel to represent linen wrappings.

During a later session, she painted and colored the squares that she then attached to both sides of the paper towel wrapping–you can see that in the first picture. This represents the paintings on the coffins.

Is this an artistically accurate modeling of an Egyptian mummy? Not at all. Does it demonstrate that this three-year-old understands what she’s been studying? Absolutely. I am blown away (again!) by the way in which she has translated her learning into her own project representation.

N’s planned pyramid will be too big to fit on the project shelf. We’ll have to come up with some other way to display it. My kids are used to seeing their creations displayed around our house and on our walls. I have many, many of their artworks (and my own) framed and hanging. They didn’t react in any particular way to seeing their project creations on the shelf, although my son did point out to his brother that I’d cleaned a shelf off just for them. I think they all consider the house their own gallery, as I have a high tolerance for random stuff taped to the walls–they do their own displaying, too. I think that’s a good thing.

There is a lot I’m not doing–dedicated display or bulletin boards for project materials in individual work spaces (which we don’t have) would be great. I’m not so good about scheduling in blocks of project time on multiple days per week. But I’m doing what I can, and as is often the case, it turns out that that is enough until I can do more.

{PBL} Claywork in the Egypt Project

I hope I can do this morning’s project time justice in this post. Way back when at the start of this project, my eight-year-old, who internalized a different meaning of “project” from school, decided he’d make a pyramid. I worried he’d jumped to this, that he was approaching this backwards, and we talked about it some, but I also figured I’d let this ride. We picked out some air dry clay and he worked with it a bit to get a feel for it. We talked about how he might want to make a model of a pyramid to make sure the different pieces fit together. (Ok, I talked. A little.) We continued to read about Egypt and the other topics he’d mentioned besides pyramids–King Tut, gods and goddesses–and we visited the MFA, which sparked more interests.

Earlier this week, I hung up the hieroglyphs poster I purchased in the museum gift shop and left out the hieroglyph stencil on the art table. My son was excited to come across this and immediately drew his name in his project notebook and surrounded it with an oval to make a cartouche. This morning he decided to use the air-dry clay to do the same thing.

Using the stencil in clay.

Using the stencil in clay.

Here is his full name, before he cut out the oval:

hieroglyphics in clay

Knowing his interest in the gods and goddesses of Ancient Egypt, I made sure to point out the statuettes when we came across them in the museum. I wondered if he’d want to try to make one out of clay? I hadn’t taken pictures of any of the statuettes, but we do have several books on Egyptian mythology out from the library, and he looked through those for pictures. He decided he wanted to try to make a cat statuette.

Cat statuette in clay, drying.

Cat statuette in clay, drying.

Although he has played around with this clay before–just exploring, to see what it does–this is the first time he’s tried to make something like this, with different parts. He began by trying to carve out from a chunk of it, then switched to making pieces separately and joining them. I showed him how to scratch the surface of the clay at the join and moisten it, but I’m not sure how well this will hold together. I probably would have worked more of it in a piece, but we’ll see how it goes as it dries. I made sure to tell him: we have plenty of clay. If this first attempt doesn’t end up the way you’d hoped, you can try again, using different methods. That’s how you’ll learn how to get the clay to do what you want.

While all this was going on, my daughter was working with Model Magic, which is what she’d picked out when we went shopping for clay-type stuff. She’s been cutting out pyramid pieces for her mummy (which I haven’t even posted about yet!), but they weren’t dry yet–not that I think Model Magic gets really dry, not like the clay, but it was definitely still not-dry. So she began, rather without much notice from me, to work on…something. I figured she was just, you know, playing with the Model Magic. Occasionally she’d ask my help in cutting a chunk off or she’d ask for a certain tool. I was playing with a water-soluble graphite stick in my notebook and puttering around the studio area, not really paying attention. And this is what she ended up with:

G's map of Lower Egypt in Model Magic.

G’s map of Lower Egypt in Model Magic.

She made a map of Lower Egypt out of Model Magic. Now, you probably can’t see it, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is she sees it. She pointed out the Nile River, and a boat on a hill, ready to sail. She made a couple of small mummies and put them near a statue of a dead person who is not a mummy, probably influenced by a statue we sketched at the MFA. She worked on this for at least an hour. I’ve already noted her interest in maps and mapping and had considered it as a possible project area before she informed me she’d be studying mummies. Lately she’s been asking me to point out Egypt on our wall map of the world, and she’s seen the map of Ancient Egypt plenty of times in books. Now I am thinking I need to find a larger map of Ancient Egypt that I can hang up for her.

In some ways, when these convergences happen, when the kids are following their own interests and clearly doing such deep work, I’m tempted to think that project-based homeschooling is almost cheating on my part. It seems so easy! Then I remind myself that I am doing quite a bit of work documenting, paying attention, providing materials, connecting dots, reminding the kids what they wanted to work on (more so with my son, who is still deschooling; my daughter tells me all the time what she wants to learn next and what she needs from me, step on it, Mama!). I write myself lists so I don’t forget what I need to do. And I still feel like I’m not keeping up.

But a morning like this? So, so sweet.

Field Trip: MFA Boston

This post is not really about what we did at the MFA Boston. It’s more about how we ended up there. You see, in project-based learning, the child is leading the way. The adult is mentoring. My job is to help the kids get where they want to go, not by drawing the map and marking the trail but by helping them draw their own map. I’m not picking a theme and setting up activities. They’re picking the theme, and they are figuring out what they want to do to support their learning. Right now my kids’ projects are overlapping. My eight-year-old hasn’t quite settled on one topic right now; he is researching various topics with Ancient Egypt that interest him. I’m keeping track of what he mentions and reminding him of what he’s said he wants to do or learn. My daughter has been diving into mummies, mummification, and Ancient Egypt’s ideas of the afterlife and the importance of mummification to these ideas. So in this regard, field trips are simpler because they’re bound, at this point, to apply to both projects.

However, it’s not my job to plan the field trips. No!! I simply make sure the kids know that I am able and willing to take them places to support their research. My son got onto the computer a couple of weeks ago to research real-life Ancient Egypt resources.

(All photos in the post are small cell phone photos, because that’s how I take project documentation photos, so I can upload them into Evernote. Right now, this is my method because it is convenient and easy and thus more liable to get done.)

After quite a bit of research, he had a list (which I wrote down for him) of places he’d like to go to support his study. This list isn’t constrained by distance or budget; everything is allowed.

It might be hard to read; it says: King Tut’s treasure, Egypt, Oriental Institute-Chicago, Yale Museum-New Haven, Met Museum of Art-New York (Sphinx of Hatsheput), RISD Museum, MFA Boston. I told him that three of these destinations were reasonable day trips for us: New Haven, Boston, and RISD (which is in Providence). He’s been to RISD many times before, actually; it’s the closest. We brought the Egyptian collections at all three museums on the computer, and he compared them to decide where he wanted to visit first.

He originally thought he’d want to go to New Haven, because he’s never been to that city, but after viewing collections online, he decided to visit the MFA in Boston first. (Link to their Egyptian collection page.) The next decision was how to get there–we could drive or take the commuter train, which is newly present near to us. It only runs all the way down here on weekdays, though, so that factored in.

He definitely wanted to take the train (as did his sister), so the next step was to figure out how to read a train schedule, which I showed him. Which stop did we need to get off at in Boston? I suggested that the MFA’s site might have that information for us. Together, we navigated the site to find out all he needed to know; he needed less and less of my guidance, and eventually he knew where we had to go, what time the trains came, whether we could sketch in the museum (yes), with what materials (just pencils), if we could bring in a backpack (no), a stroller (yes, but we didn’t), and if there was a place to leave our lunch bag while we toured the museum (yep). Together, we talked about which days of the week were possibilities given our other commitments, and he decided upon a day. Finally, he emailed his dad at work to see whether he could take the day off and come with us and/or be available to meet his brother’s school bus if his brother decided he’d rather go to school than come with us.

Eventually, it was decided the whole family would go. My daughter was elated about the train ride.

The MFA has an entire room of mummies–my daughter was quite pleased. My son, who has a strong interest in rocks (so much so that geology was a possible project topic, too) was thrilled to see alabaster in person. I suspect this will open up a further area of study and his interests might converge to provide that focus that’s been missing. He’s also interested in the gods and goddesses, though, and brought a list of names with him to the museum. We saw many statuettes of gods and goddesses, and we’ve talked about using our air-dry clay to try to make some.

Because he’s mentioned hieroglyphs, I purchased a poster of hieroglyphs and a hieroglyph stencil in the gift shop (along with all the postcards of Egyptian pieces they had–only four, alas). Tonight he mentioned making a cartouche with the clay. And we came across something in the museum that we hadn’t in our books–false doors, which allowed the ka to pass through. This will surely lead to further research.

In other words, our trip to view the Egyptian galleries at the MFA Boston was not the culminating event. It is part of the process of the kids’ research, and we came home with more interests to pursue, more leads to follow. And most importantly, this field trip wasn’t something presented to them, already planned, already decided. They both had a hand in planning it (my son more than my daughter, but she was involved as well). They have ownership of this learning.

I have so much more to share about their projects, but I’m not always able to blog by the end of the day. But I’ll do my best, because how else to get across how amazing this type of learning is to witness?

{PBL} This is Serious Play

Last week, I received a strong signal that we are on the right track with project-based learning. My kids transformed the living room into an Egyptian tomb, using their imaginations and materials at hand, and then spent a goodly amount of time using it as a set and spark for dramatic play. I’m used to finding elaborate set-ups in the common areas of the house (such as this). And this isn’t the first time the kids have incorporated what they’re learning into such a set-up.

For a long time, my middle child was fascinated with Mt. Everest, and to some extent, he still is. (I don’t think a strong interest like that will ever really go away.) The Top of the World became his guidebook as he planned his own trip to climb Mt. Everest. He would gather his tools, making them (with preschool-sized Legos; he was that young) if necessary. He’d pack the tools in a bag, explaining to me each tool and its purpose, and he’d set up base camp in the middle of the living room, making sure to visit the monkey temple first. In thinking about this post, I realized that this interest in Mt. Everest could be considered a project, and I could have done more to extend and deepen it. But instead of beating myself up over that, I’m choosing to acknowledge the things I instinctively did right: I didn’t take it over. I didn’t seize upon this interest to impose an adult-led “teaching moment.” I didn’t search the Internets over to find a child-size play set of mountain climbing tools–which would have taken away all of his joy in searching the house for equivalents and building them when necessary out of what was at hand. It’s important, as we try to embrace a new way of thinking and learning, to acknowledge what we are doing and have done right.

So, back to the Egyptian tomb. My daughter is a mummy here.

representation of Egyptian tomb

They’ve created a tomb wall, and the play silks and blankets represent the different wrappings and coffins. All this was explained to me. The box in the back with a handle, which is the kids’ treasure chest, is representing (obviously!) treasure. Later they added toys and books to use in the afterlife, just as the ancient Egyptians buried themselves with items to use in their afterlife.

books + toys for afterlife

The stuffed cat to the left in the photo is representing a cat mummy. (Cat Mummies is one of our library finds, and we’d just read it.) They told me they tried to cover our real cat with a play silk to represent a mummy, but he didn’t cooperate. (Which is strange, because all he does is sleep anyway.) Eventually, my daughter reported that her ka had found her again–her ka, she told me, recognized her by the clothes she was wearing–and she was able to play with her afterlife books and toys.

I can’t think of a more powerful expression of deep understanding–as well as the desire to deeply understand–than incorporating learning into play such as this. Creating a world and then acting within it, distilling what has been learned and processing it through play–it is amazing to witness, and powerful for me, too, to recognize it for what it was: serious play, child-led, and an authentic demonstration of deep interest and learning.

A Plan, of Sorts

[Insert your own metaphor here] The other day at the beach, it was so clear we had a great view of Block Island offshore. But this is rare.

As I described in the last post, I’m not one to plan the learning step by step. But I’m not unschooling, either. That’s where I thought I’d fall, when I started homeschooling way long ago. The reality, though, was that my oldest wanted and needed a bit more structure. He liked workbooks. (Me? They give me hives.) He liked seeing tangible progress of work completed. He was five. I adjusted. I even bought a complete curriculum for his first grade year, but I ended up changing and adding so much that I was going to take a completely different approach the next year, except then he began school.

This time around, with my younger son, I’ve gathered some books and I’m keeping it loose, with a very short list of items that need to be completed daily. Because three years of school has him convinced he hates math, I started him with Life of Fred over the summer. The addition in the early books is below his current ability, but those books have reinforced some items that just didn’t stick at school, such as telling time and the order of the days of the week and months of the year. My only math requirement to begin the year is a chapter of Fred a day. I know without a doubt that math will be included in all the other subjects we do, in his daily life, and in his project work. This child needs to see the practical use of something; he’s not going to learn anything just because somebody tells him to. (And I don’t think he will ever be asking for workbooks.)

My state doesn’t even require we teach history, just geography and civics. Perhaps this is why he apparently learned no history through second grade. (My older son had a completely different–and better, in my opinion–second grade experience at the same school with a different teacher, but that was before they revamped the second grade. He did learn history, though. We’d already covered many of the same topics in our first grade homeschool, but still.) Nevertheless, I asked him if he’d like to start at the beginning, in the ancient world. He’s very enthusiastic about learning more about the ancient Egyptians. I bought the first volume of Story of the World to help us tie everything together in historical context, something I was having a hard time doing myself with books that focused just on Egypt. I’m not using the activity books, though, since having somebody else decide what to do takes all the fun out of it! We’ll be supplementing and going more in depth with library books, the local art museum (which has a wonderful collection of ancient art), and whatever related projects my son decides he wants to pursue. We’ll move on when he’s ready.

He also asked to do chemistry experiments. We’ll be using Adventures with Atoms and Molecules, Amazing Kitchen Chemistry Projects You Can Build Yourself, and library resources (including a science dictionary for any terms that need to be looked up).

And finally, we’ll be incorporating project time.

I’m keeping the extras light. I think he needs to unwind from school and rediscover how much he likes learning things when he has a choice of what to learn. His knee-jerk response to anything schoolish is “I hate it” and “it’s boring.” After years of struggling to get him up and on a bus, I don’t plan on spending most of our homeschooling time trying to get him in a car on time. We have one co-op day, and I’m really excited to be part of a great group. We are planning on enrolling him in karate; we think this might be a very good fit for our intense, oppositional child. (Team sports? He can’t stand them.) And that’s about it, at least to start the year.

We will begin where we are and see what develops, maintaining flexibility at all times. That’s the main gist of any plan I’m making.