Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Geography, social science and geneology, OH MY!

One of the great things about homeschooling is that we can tailor our studies to our children's interests. And just as any teacher may, we have the opportunity to use a single issue or item of interest to teach a variety of lessons and skills. We did it with our homemade Princess Curriculum, and more recently we did it with our family tree.

My great grandmother spent ages collecting family history. When she passed away, a copy of her research was given to me, and I've continued to build on it. At our house, I'm not sure a day passes in which we don't talk about one ancestor or relative or another, so it was only natural to create a kid-friendly family tree. It became a multi-day project that included art, social science, geography and world cultures.

We began with an art project. Together, we lined up giant strips of butcher paper on an open wall in the living room, then we drew a tree on it. Then our 7-year-old copied maps of the United State and Western Europe out of the encyclopedia. Those were hung on the same wall, below the branches of the tree.

Then we used a printed family tree to look back at our family history, beginning with our girls' grandparents, and branching out from there. I didn't just tell them their ancestors' names, but something about each of them, about their offspring, about their childhoods or their childhood homes. I tried to think of new stories to tell about the ancestors they'd heard so much already, and with memories of stories told by my own great-grandparents, I was able to tell a little something about more people that I'd realized would be possible! Where photos were available, I shared those images with the girls.

After I told a bit about each person, the girls drew portraits of them, wrote their place of birth and profession. Then they posted the portraits on the family tree. When we'd completed six generations, we called it good. The family tree was pretty extensive by then, and the girls had a clear picture that they didn't just pop out of nowhere.

Then we looked at the maps. We attached a string to each portrait and connected it to the country or state on the map from which that ancestor originated. We talked about those countries, read about them, watched videos about some, and completed special projects for others. We cooked Scandinavian foods and checked out the languages of our ancestors.

These days we're focusing on handwriting (the older girl is learning cursive), basic math facts, continued study of the pioneers (because one of us just can't get enough of that era), spelling and grammar. We've picked up our music studies a bit, and the girls are working on some Spanish as well. We're developing our tastes in poetry and other literature, and the girls continue their crafting.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Arts and Crafts

Some days are great for libraries, some for hands-on history or science and others for math games at home. But one day each week we head to a nearby university to take advantage of their many public offerings, not the least of which is the use of pottery wheels. We discovered this a couple of years ago, and last year we took up the craft ourselves. We thought about taking one of the basic classes, but our oldest daughter said she'd prefer to just give it a try and learn through osmosis, by trial and error and just plain experience.

Well, that's worked out very well. At this campus, where the motto is "learn by doing," students are not just willing, but seem thrilled, to offer helpful tips. Last week we watched two CLEARLY experienced potters create vase after vase, teapot after teapot with ease. This week, I asked one of them for a little bit of advice. Well, this 20-year-old man who only took up the hobby last fall and also taught himself through experience and observation of others had LOADS of information to share. His tips really helped us out, and we look forward to seeing him again next week.

So what's the point of pottery? Well, it teaches a load of lessons, not the least of which is patience! We learn that having a pot flop isn't a bad thing. You just recreate your center (the beginning mound) and go for it again, no harm, no foul. We take turns doing the parking-meter math to ensure we don't get the Big Ticket. The girls have been listening attentively to neighboring potters who communicate largely in French. (Are they picking anything up? I don't know, but I don't believe I've ever heard them so quiet while awake!) And occasionally we're joined by other friends whose kids are interested in trying out the wheel. All the kids can work together, share supplies, give pointers and enjoy each other's company.

It's been a busy week, however, so tomorrow it's a quiet day at home, playing our way through the game closet, gardening, and, if we have time, doing a science project at home.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Speaking Out

Today, I served as a panelist for Leadership SLO, a program of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. The year-long program takes future leaders on an educational tour of the area's services and infrastructure, from healthcare to finance to arts and education. Today was education day, and after their tour of SLO High and a variety of other discussions, the panel got its shot. It included one public school board representative, a magnet-school representative and me, representing homeschooling. We each gave introductory remarks, then answered questions from the Leadership class members.

Some thoughts came to me as I tried to be coherent if not eloquent. As I listened to both the magnet-school rep and the public school rep speak, I thought about how confined and restrained their teachers are by the various pressures of their situations: the system, government control, class size and any of a number of other issues the modern-traditional educator faces. As homeschoolers, we are confined only by the obstacles we accept, whether they be financial or social, academic or geographical. It also occurred to me that while some people homeschool primarily to shelter their children from the world, others believe their primary mission is to expand upon the education that might otherwise be available to their children. I believe I fall a little in both camps, but certainly lean heavily toward the latter.

The modern-traditional schoolers were very supportive of homeschooling. Even when given the opportunity to bash it, they wouldn't. In fact, one question asked of the school board president was, "What negative aspects do you see in homeschooling?" His immediate answer, "I don't think there are any. I think when homeschooling is done in a loving environment with the children's best interests in mind it's a wonderful thing. I think it's a gift." Wow! NOT the answer I expected, but I sure did appreciate it!

Meanwhile, the girls enjoyed a day at home with Mr. Daddy, the substitute teacher. While he said the plan for them was to play, it sure looked to me like they did some educational stuff, too. When I arrived home, the Matchbox-style cars were lined up in categories (coaches, winners and other competitors) near a ramp they'd erected. On the white board was a running tally of just how far each and every of those 20-some-odd cars had managed to jump, both clean and crash-and-burn. They were ranked by distance (winners in both the clean jump and the crash-and-burn categories). E also taught Mr. Daddy some language arts lessons. ("Today we're going to talk about mood in our writing.") They wrote poetry, and practiced their public reading skills, complete with emotion.

Good day was had by all!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Homeschool Galore

A lot of people ask us when we're going to send our kids to public or private school, the modern traditional school. We really don't have a plan for that, though we're not entirely opposed to it. I know that what we're doing is not traditional and can be kind of difficult to understand, particularly given the lack of information most of us receive about homeschooling options. So, I thought I'd start using this blog to share with concerned family and friends what it is we DO here at Best Family Academy.

First of all, BFA is registered with the state as a private school per state requirements. So, while we say we're homeschooling, technically our children are attending a (very) private school.

While we don't used boxed curriculum, I do consult with the state's "content standards" to ensure that our girls have completed those requirements. This ensures that the girls will be in line with their peers when or if they attend public school. It also gives me some guidelines since I'm not one who studied education and child development. Anyone who knows me understands that I tend to have rather high expectations. Checking content standards may help keep that in check. But I also move well beyond those standards as I take each girls' interests, knowledge and attention span into consideration.

I believe our girls' use of time is much more efficient in this 2:1 student-teacher ratio and tailored curriculum. They are as likely to create a historically accurate diorama of their own accord for fun on a Saturday as they are to pick up Chinese during a school lesson on any given weekday. So far, we've been able to complete the state's mandated content standards in the first month of school, then move on to projects in which the girls are more interested, thereby keeping their attention throughout the school year and beyond. In addition, they have a lot more freedom, more time to play and learn life skills like cooking, goal setting and the steps it takes to reach those goals, sewing, carpentry, and whatever else comes along in real life.

Here's a taste of Social Science ala Best Family Academy. And a look at P.E. More to come...

I know a lot of friends and family are also worried about how our girls will EVER learn social skills. Well, the first thing I think everyone needs to remember is, well, you've MET these girls. What do you SEE and experience? Still, where do they meet friends, you ask, and how do they develop relationships? Well, they DO have regular activities outside our home including, at this point, swimming 3-days per week, gymnastics (thanks, Grandpa!), and ballet. Through these activities, they're making friends with whom they immediately share at least one common interest. We're also involved in our local homeschool group with which we do a variety of activities, both academic and social. (Today the kids are converging upon our home to work on Chinese crafts for our Chinese New Year celebration slated later this week.)

In coming months, I'll use this blog to offer updates on the girls' schooling and related activities. Stay tuned!

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