Getting Back to Nature

For four days and three nights we cooked over the fire, slept in sleeping bags, stargazed, plunged into swimming ponds, and made new friends. We learned about turtles, Native American ingenuity and the great big universe.

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When we decided to go on a family camping trip we choose a state park because of its price, location, and amenities. However, we found that the parks provide an amazing amount of activities, and learning experiences for the public at a very reasonable cost. ( In Minnesota a annual vehicle pass is only $25.) The speakers were fun, engaging and friendly.

We highly recommend using and supporting state and national parks as an amazing resource for your homeschool. Check out those close to you at the America’s parks website.

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The kids were able to find many critters including snakes, toads, frogs, and dragon flies. During the parks activities they were also able to meet Shelby the turtle and learn about all of Minnesota’s turtles and how to identify them. As well as, how they can help keep turtles safe.

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There was another wonderful talk on how the Natives utilized different types of tree bark to make canoes, homes, rope and more. The kids were even able to make their own piece of rope from the bark of the basswood tree. They even got to keep it as a souvenir tied as bracelets.

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One evening we were able to meet with two U of M astrophysics Graduate students who gave a great talk on the universe. They even set up two telescopes for viewing Saturn and a few stars. Jason also set up his telescope for viewing.

Oh, and of course we had Smores’ 

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All in all we had a wonderful time, learned a lot, and found another great homeschool resource. We have already started planning another day at Kathio in September, learning all about anthropologist.

Letting go of the school mentality. . . . and learning to read

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It has been a journey. I’m feeling the struggle in the process of letting go of labels. Most of us intrenched in the school mentality have formed ideals that can be extremely hard to remove from our minds and life. It is not as if these attitudes just disappear when you decide its time to give it up. They sneak in unsuspecting, in conversations with strangers and family, in deciding learning skills, when making goals. Even when your children play with other schoolers.

This year the idea of grade level learning keeps popping up, especially as we are entering the start of a new “school year”. Blake and Maeve are continually asked what grade they are entering, which has ensued a few awkward conversations. Here’s why, technically if he would have continued on track with public schooling he would be in 3rd grade. However, Blake’s learning is asynchronous meaning he is many grades all at once. After reading clicked with him, he improved rapidly (which is usually the case) and is reading fluently in most any capacity. I could say he reads at a 5th grade level or a 3rd grade level or even a 9th grade level, but that is exactly what I am trying to rid myself of. This idea that he is ahead or below grade level, opens the mind to comparisons between children, creates unneeded goals and places unwanted stigma on our children. These insipid labels have little meaning, you and your child are reading at a pace and comprehension that is at level for you, at the time. Once these labels are gone, real progress can occur unimpeded by expectation. (However I have to make it clear that I believe if at anytime you have concerns with your child’s development a serious talk with your physician is appropriate, they should help you weed out if your child’s emotional and intellectual development is within an appropriate range. )

The hurdle to learning to read was an emotional struggle for Blake, one that broke my and his heart. So for awhile we backed off, however, I began reading aloud to him more and more. We read 17 chapter books within a 6 week span. Books that he chose for me to read, and when he wasn’t interested in the story we just picked another. Somewhere along the way he asked me to track my finger along as I read. (He picked books by Bruce Coville, Rhoald Dahl, and even J.K Rowling) Then one day he picked up “The BFG” and said “I’ll read a chapter, then you read a chapter.” I was so excited I nearly jumped outta my pants, but I reared it in and said “ok.” He read beautifully, and when he didn’t know a word he would pause look at me. I would supply it to him, no questions asked. Soon after this I realized that Blake could not learn to read through phonics instruction and was strictly a learn by sight type. It became apparent that after seeing a word and hearing it from me once or twice within a text he was able to internalize that information. It didn’t take long after that for him to start burning the midnight oil, so he could read “just one more chapter.”

Since then it has become apparent to him how much information he can gain by reading. He has become a lover of instruction manuals, and the internet has become a treasure trove of information he can now “access”.

And so as we begin a new school year not only with Blake but Maeve as well, I am continually throwing away the labels, and fostering my children’s growth at a pace that is comfortable to them.

Homeschooling in Minnesota with an eclectic unschooling twist.

 

Our little home-school family lives in Minnesota and so we have a few regulations we must follow in order to homeschool. The first thing we must do is let our local school district know that we are schooling at home. This is a very easy process, basically, we just fill out paperwork that states the grade and child(ren) to be schooled, include their immunization records, and what standardized testing we will be choosing for the year.

Minnesota also requires home-school families to “teach” on these subjects: basic communication skills (including reading, writing, literature, and fine arts) mathematics, science, social studies (including history, geography and government) health and physical education.

When I first read this I was a totally intimidated. How the heck was I going to get all of this in everyday? Here’s the answer: You don’t, and that’s okay. These topics will not be covered everyday. Unless you have some crazy schedule I have not (and most likely could not) seen or followed. As long as they are covered in some capacity in the “school year” or even monthly you will be fine. In my opinion if you are cramming it all in (everyday), the children are grasping at straws and very little of it is being internalized. Home-schoolers and unschoolers are as varied as pie. Although its all considered pie, each has its own flavor and none of them are wrong, some people may like key-lime others french silk.

I am within reason a believer in unschooling, and have found books like John Holt’s Schooling At Home to be a great resource; not just for homeschooling, but for parenting and child-rearing in general. So after our experience of unschooling I found that if at the end of the day I tracked what Blake did during the day; be it playing with legos, searching online, coding, playing outside, watching a documentary on Neanderthals or creating a kite out of plastic bags and sticks. He alone covered almost all of the criteria ON HIS OWN.

The only thing that wasn’t happening was the inherent proof through paperwork or testing that prep-made school work creates for itself. And so record keeping became very important. When I noticed that not much math, or history was happening I would use strewing (the act of setting out items like books, movies, toys, etc, to invoke interest) to help him along.

I cannot however say that we are unschoolers, because although I use unschooling practices in our home-life. We also use curriculum when we feel its needed. We keep somewhat of a schedule to our days and we set personal and academic goals.

Minnesota requires standardized testing, there are various choices to choose from, however the school district must approve of your testing choice. No matter what your views on these practices are your child should be able to test through this material. This is especially true in the lower grades as much of the material is core knowledge learned through life experience. I cannot confidently say this about middle and high school testing as I have not experienced this testing process. However, even if they are low in one or two subjects they should not be failing all or the majority. If they are there needs to be some form of intervention or further assessment for disability happening, which is why I am not against standardized testing. (I am against the practice of funding schools based on test scores, and forcing teaching methods on teachers for the sole purpose of testing.)

Eclectic Homeschool – Learning Items

I am an eclectic decorator.  Because of this our home is filled with items that scream “us”. The things we like we keep, for a LONG time. It has taken me years to realize that I am not happy with a cookie cutter home, that showrooms and magazines rarely speak to me because the items have not been accumulated over time. I could care less if my end tables match or that I have ten different pillows on my couch. Much of my decorating includes boxes to hide the stuff crap I accumulate, Ikea organizers, a plethora of books and science items. As an artist, mother, homeschooler, I have noticed if I LOVE an item it has the following qualities: it will FITS the space well, it is USEFUL, and I gather ENERGY from it.

The items that speak to me in such a way are the ones that stick around for the long haul. My design aesthetic is much the same for our curriculum and learning choices. Shopping online, thrift stores, yard sales, using Netflix or YouTube, it truly runs the gamut. Instead of selecting a curriculum for the year and following it day to day, I prefer (as do our children) to set goals and let those guide our days. Last year was our first year truly homeschooling, and man it was a wild ride. I had already tried the whole k12 thing, which didn’t work for us AT ALL. We then moved on to a sort of unschooling/deschooling philosophy. During this time, we exploited our freedom and spent time getting used to just being together. This summer when looking forlearning itemsinstead of curriculum I followed the same rule of thumb as I do when decorating.

  • Does it FIT with our goals? And our space. . . Small home woes
  •  Is it Useful?
  •  Does it give me/us ENERGY?

Our learning items don’t have to have all these qualities. However the ones that do seem to get used over and over with enthusiasm!