Eclectic (un)schooling

I am officially labeling our homeschool model as eclectic schooling. We use a mix of structured workbooks, Charlotte Mason style literature, and now, reluctantly, unschooling.

I have been hesitant to embrace unschooling. It seems too unstructured. That may seem obvious, but I was concerned about how they would learn if left to decide. I’m seeing now that unschooling need not be totally free, but can be guided. Give them appropriate choices and let them choose what to learn in what order. This is our new approach to literature and science for Richard.

So my grand science plan this year has turned more into guided unschooling. Oh well, at least it’s getting done even if it’s not in the fashion I planned. In some ways this is better. Since he’s the one picking the lessons and experiments, I know he’s  interested and actively learning. I just provide books, materials, and support.

He’s really enjoying the God’s Design series. The experiments go along with it very well after doing the reading. I never use the tests. I have him keep a science journal of his experiments. The journal, experiments, and questions he asks tell me how well he understands the material.

Richard got a set of 15 hardcover chemistry books about the elements for Christmas. This afternoon, he decided to read some in the book about hydrogen then my husband set up a charge generator to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen.

He has also become unschooled with literature, picking his own reading choices. This fall he dug out my husband’s Oz series and has now read all of them at least twice. Everyone got new soft throws for Christmas to snuggle under, perfect for reading on the sofa. Richard got 3 Winnie the Pooh chapter books (Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, and Now we are Six) which he already loves. There’s several chapter fiction books in his history program that he’s enjoyed already out of order. I’m planning on making a list of books I’d like him to read, then let him pick from the library. He can then design his own project based upon the book.

I don’t anticipate unschooling for language arts or math, but it seems to be working for literature and science. These subjects lend themselves to unschooling well since there are no hard and fast rules or order like math where you first learn to count then add, then multiply and divide. Another good reason is that both kids can learn the same things rather than each separately in their own grade.

The biggest things with unschooling is providing access to quality materials and taking advantage of your child’s interests. It doesn’t work well if all you give them are traditional textbooks. Unit studies work well as long as the child chooses what to study.  For instance if they like bugs, give them books and activities about insects then perhaps other biology subjects. If they like taking things apart to see how they work, perhaps elementary physics. Chemistry and cooking go well together, especially if a child likes to mix things together. A rock collection is a good entrance to geology.

So like no one style will work for all children, I’m learning that no one style will even work for all subjects with the same child. My son needs structure for the 3 R’s and more freedom for everything else. I figure as long as he does at least a lesson and experiment a week in the science books we’ll be on course. Since I usually have a hard time getting him to put his literature book down after bedtime reading, I’m not worried about him not reading enough.

This mix of teaching styles lends itself to our homeschool district’s learning levels very well. As long as they finish all levels in every subject in 12 years, it doesn’t matter when each individual subject level should be completed. This means he can do third grade language arts and math, fifth grade reading, and junior high science at the same time. If he wants or needs to spend more or less time on certian subjects, that’s fine. You can advance levels at any time throughout the school year as long as you show competancy of material for the level you’re in.

Back to the books

After a four-day weekend for Christmas and Karen’s 5th birthday, we’re back to the books this morning. My husband made a big deal about now that our daughter has turned five, she needs to pay more attention to schoolwork. I don’t know if this was meant for me or her. She’s not paid very much attention and I’ve been pretty slack so probably both of us.

So this morning while her brother did his schoolwork and I did the dishes from her dinner party, she read 5 Bob Books aloud in the living room. Learning at home is fun when you can cuddle with a doll or two while reading to Mama. She did well. She got a Fuzzy Duckling book and matching puzzle for her birthday and Poky Little Puppy puzzle for Christmas. After finishing the dishes, I read her Fuzzy Duckling then she did the puzzle (I had to justify the 20% educator discount from Barnes & Noble).

Everyone got new soft throws for Christmas to snuggle under, perfect for reading on the sofa. Richard got 3 Winnie the Pooh chapter books (Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, and Now we are Six) which he already loves. He also got a set of 15 hardcover chemistry books about the elements. This afternoon, he decided to read some in the book about hydrogen then my husband set up a charge generator to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen.

The plan this week is to finish Richard’s handwriting book. Then we’ll try creative writing prompts. Christian Light Education doesn’t have much writing. We should also finish the fifth of 10 workbooks which will make his school year half over.

Create a kid’s room

Every parent wants their child to enjoy their room, even if they share it with siblings. However, you don’t have to spend a bundle to do so. Aside from the furniture, the “extras” that make a child’s room special shouldn’t cost more than $100-200. Here’s how.

With a little thought and planning, it’s easy to design an inexpensive, fun room that will grow with the child. Don’t buy into the marketing trap that you must have rooms entirely done with the latest movie or toy themes since these are constantly changing. Instead, pick a main color or design then theme the room with extras that are cheaper and easier to change than wallpaper.

The biggest thing is don’t feel you must buy everything new, especially for younger kids. They probably won’t know the difference and you’ll save a lot of money. I got most of the things for my son’s room at garage sales. My daughter’s room has a lot of items from thrift shops. Recently, I took advantage of after Christmas sales and got them some new items for half off.

Think ahead. When the child is very young, don’t go all out on baby themed things they’ll quickly outgrow. Sure, you need a crib, but not necessarily a pink, lacy, frilly room with baby block wallpaper and curtains. The same for toddler themes they’ll hate by the time they are 7 or 8. Instead look for items that can be incorporated as they age.

There are a few essentials for a comfortable room. They include a bed, dresser, nightstand, lamp, and chair. These should be good quality, durable enough to stand years of use. Look for neutral colors or wood rather for them than themes which will be expensive to change when it’s time to update the theme. Use pictures and other decorative items such as pillows to theme the room which can easily and cheaply be updated as the child grows.

Invest in a nice, durable lamp base. Even if the room has overhead lighting, a good lamp beside the bed is more comfortable for reading or playing quietly in bed. Lampshades are easy to change and available in many different themes. This is cheaper than buying new lamps when you update or change themes.

Curtains can be part of the theme as well as long as they aren’t specific like the latest movie hero, Barbie, or Cars. Instead, pick a solid color or designs such as flowers, plaids, and stripes which can go with many different themes. A cheap way to incorporate the curtains into the specific theme is to get a valance in the theme and put it over a plainer curtain on a double rod. Generally, valances cost half as much as curtains, especially if you have heavy curtains for blocking out weather and light.

Blankets and bedding can go either way depending upon price. It’s easy to spend a bundle of money for a child’s theme bed. If you do decide to do that, try to get something that will keep the child’s interest for more than just a year or two. Again, avoid the latest movie or toy themes since they change quickly. Instead, like the curtains, pick a solid color or designs such as flowers, plaids, and stripes which can go with many different themes. To tie the bed in with a specific theme, add things like pillows or sheets. This is especially useful if siblings share a room and like different things. They also are easier to change out and usually cheaper than blankets, comforters, and bedspreads.

My son likes red and Winnie the Pooh. I knew he wouldn’t always like Pooh, so I focused more on the colors. Only his lamp and blanket are Pooh. The lampshade is red and white plaid. The curtain is plain red.

My daughter’s colors are pink and green. Her curtain is a patchwork of pink and green with large and small flowers. Her lamp is dark pink with a shade that matches the curtain. She has a framed drawing of Holly Hobbie in shades of pink, red, green, and yellow that was mine as a girl. Her blanket is pink. For her birthday, she got a pink throw with flowers that match her lamp and curtain.

Be understanding of the child’s likes, but stay within your budget. It can get pretty easy to go overboard decorating a room. Get them to understand that they will have to live with their room decor for several years so they must be sure of their choices. Take them to the store to window shop. Take pictures of their favorite items. Then later come back to purchase in a few days or even weeks if they still want the same things. This will take the pressure off and give everyone time to consider other options. In the meantime, scour thrift stores or garage sales for bargains on similar items. If your child gets an allowance or has a job, consider having them help pay for a more expensive item.

One final important consideration in a kid’s room is a place to store their toys and other things. It’s NOT correct to simply pile it all in a corner every night. I tried, it just doesn’t work. A toybox tends to be a catchall resulting in broken toys unless it’s periodically straightened. They need an organized place to put all the dolls, blocks, books, cars, and miscellaneous toys. Baskets and shelves work great and need not be fancy. Clear plastic boxes work well too. If they have lids, they can be neatly stacked. You can even get them with attached folding lids so the lid doesn’t get lost.

Have fun decorating!

Fitness update 2009 #22; Maybe a marathon

Merry Christmas everyone! I’ve decided my fitness goal for 2010 will be running the Equinox Marathon in August. I’d appreciate any advice on my plans or beginning running.

Now, I’m definitely not a runner. If I do this, I expect to walk a lot of it. However, I just found “Couch to 5K” which helps you to go from no exercise to running 3 miles in 30 minutes after just a couple months. It’s a straightforward plan gradually increasing time/distance (depending upon how you choose to measure yourself) over 10 weeks. Nothing fancy. No gimmicks. Since it’s mid-winter in Alaska, the roads are always snowy and icy so I’ll adapt it to cross country skiing until breakup then hit the roads.

I can currently walk 3-4 miles an hour for a few hours. However, if I want to finish before the cutoff time, I’ll need to do better than that, since I expect to take small breaks throughout which will slow my overall time. This should be a great resource to help improve my time. I also need to improve overall endurance since it is the longest I’ve ever gone not on a bike.

This isn’t a nice flat marathon either. It’s the Equinox Marathon mid-August in Fairbanks. The course isn’t a nice flat run along all paved roads. Instead this course winds it’s way up a hill that would be considered a small mountain in some parts of the country but to us it’s a hill. The course makes a giant loop. It goes from around 400 feet to about 2400 feet elevation with some steep climbs and drops then winds back down to finish where it started. It runs along paved roads then heads into the woods on dirt trails for the climb then back to paved roads again. It begins at 8am. You have until 6pm to finish. I don’t like walking on paved roads. I really enjoy off road hiking so I think this will be fun if I can endure the distance.

To do this, I need to make sure I regularly exercise a lot. It would give me a purpose to exercise other than just loosing weight and getting fit. I’m not sure if “training” would apply since I associate that with more structure than I have (doing X miles in Y minutes for Z days, etc). But since my goal is to finish the marathon, perhaps training is the right word.

I talked to my husband about this and he surprised me by saying he approved of my idea. That will make it easier. He likes the idea of a more concrete goal date and purpose for exercising.

However, my “training” won’t be mostly practice runs. Here’s my plan:

Water aerobics: 1-2x/wk

Zumba: dance myself fit 1x/wk

Stationary bike:

Walking and running: the ice rink has an upstairs carpeted area they let people do this during the week (free!) that’s much larger than the itty bitty track at the gym

Cross country skiing: at least 1x/wk until breakup then hiking

Turbo Jam: any day I don’t do one of the above

That’s it! I don’t know for sure I’ll do the marathon. It depends upon if we’re going sailing and the weather. It can be anything from sunny and warm to snow or rain. Even a mix of all of them (yuck! No thanks.) At least this gives me something to daydream about for awhile when my workouts get to be a drag.

I’ve never done anything like this. I have hiked more than 9 miles in a day several times. I also rode my bike to Seattle from Alaska, but that was 10 years ago. I’ve done nothing big exercise wise recently. I have a lot of working out to do before August if I’m going to do this.

So what do you think? Am I being too ambitious or is it good to dream big?

It’s finished!

Yesterday I spent all day in town shopping and showing apartments. My husband stayed home and watched the kids. That alone was a great thing, but he surprised me when I got home. While I was gone, he and the maintenance man finished putting the kitchen cabinets and sink back together. The new, larger mat was by the door. My kitchen was now finished!

I still need to clean the last cabinets and the sink counter, but at least everything is put back in the kitchen. How nice it is to be able to use the kitchen sink again. Plus I need to dust the log walls, which gives a new meaning to the phrase of “dust the house”.

I was mildly afraid the wood floor would be too much wood since we have wood cabinets and log walls, but it all goes together nicely. Everything looks great! I love my kitchen now.

2009 Dec. homeschool update

Hard to believe 2009 is almost gone. It’s been a good year for our homeschool. Unlike public schools, we haven’t taken a lot of days off other than sick days so Richard is halfway through third grade. Karen is slowly working her way through Learning to Read.

While I won’t say Richard’s favorite subjects are reading and language arts, he isn’t fighting them either. Some lessons he does actually enjoy. If fact, a few times he’s worked ahead without realizing it because he was enjoying them. I don’t make him do that subject again until the others are on the same lesson when he does that. He lost his reading workbook for a week so we only did language arts. Then when he found it over the weekend, the next week we just did reading to even them back out again.

They’ve been sick the last week so it’s been about 10 days since we did school last. He has trouble getting back to the books after a break so today is a bit of a challenge. I debated just waiting until next week since Christmas is this week, but my husband said back to school today.

Math is going well for both of them. This year Richard is learning multiplication. I found Schoolhouse Rock on Youtube. They had some fun multiplication/skip counting songs which is helping make it stick. There was Sesame Street “ladybug picnic” about counting to 12, which helped Karen. She’s starting to use the colored joined blocks rather than individual units to represent numbers.

It was a trip down memory lane for me. There’s also language arts and history songs. Remember “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, get your adverbs here” and “Conjunction Junction”?

History doesn’t seem as fun as last year (to me anyway). There aren’t as many interesting activities and more reading. Perhaps that’s because since we’re studying westward expansion now, most of the activities are homestead chores which we normally do everyday. Still, he’s enjoying it. Today was about the invention of barbed wire and he got to draw his own picture. While he was sick last week, he dug through the box and read Cricket in Times Square. I’m not sure when he was supposed to read this, but oh well.

Karen is slowly working her way through Learning to Read. I have given up on the primer. It was way too hard and didn’t relate to the lessons very well. It only made her frustrated instead of confident when reading. Hopefully the new Sunrise edition fixed this, but I haven’t seen it yet. I’m using Bob Books instead, which actually go with it surprisingly well.

We haven’t managed to do lessons with her very consistently. This is working out pretty good though because she gets overloaded if we do too much at once. Then after taking a few days break, the old material has sunk in and she’s ready to move on.

It will definately take a year to work through Learning to Read at the pace we’re going. Today she finished lesson 21 out of 90 and the first 4 Bob Books by herself. We also read the fifth book together. I may start to do lessons with her more often, but don’t want her to get overloaded again. This is just kindergarten after all. I want her to enjoy it, not have school seem like work.

She still sounds out several of the words, but the number of words she can read has greatly increased. Today’s lesson had 31 words to read in a minute. I don’t time her, but we do read the lists. She got through the entire list and read most of them without sounding them out today! Last time we tried this same list she could only get through half of it, even sounding them out.

She’s generally enjoying the lessons. I don’t always do every page in a lesson since there are often several pages of the same kind of thing (again, the Sunrise Edition has fixed this). If I know she understands, I’ll move on. If she’s having trouble, we’ll spend 2 days on the same lesson and do all of it. The schedule has us starting language arts in 2 weeks. Hopefully, that won’t give her too much work.

Since we took the past 10 days off, we won’t take much off for Christmas except Thursday and Friday. After regular school work is done this week, we’re learning traditional, spiritual carols and reading of the birth of Jesus. He’s the reason for the season after all. I feel in the rush of modern consumerist Christmas, we sometimes forget the real reason for celebrating and get caught up in the how. That’s why it’s important to sing songs like Silent Night, Joy to the World, and Oh Come all Ye Faithful instead of just Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman.

Seventy oops

The temperature has been pretty cold the past few days. We live in the hills above Fairbanks where it’s usually a little warmer in the winter and cooler in summer. Still, it was -25F up here last night (-35 in town).

Part of replacing the kitchen floor was removing the old radiators. My husband wants to replace them with under floor radiant heat, but hasn’t had a chance to yet. As a result, there is NO heat in the front quarter of the house. Even with the furnace on, the kitchen and living room was down to low 60’s. I made a fires in the woodstove which brought the temperature up nicely in the day.

I chopped more wood and got another fire going late this morning. By early-afternoon the temperature in the kitchen was a comfortable upper 60’s. I decided to make a turkey breast that’s been in the freezer too long for dinner. It cooks at 375. I thawed it gently in a pot of water on the wood stove for a few hours before turning on the oven.

Well, I didn’t take the oven into consideration last time I put wood on the fire. My son just checked to temperature in the kitchen and said it’s “seventy-oops”, aka 77! OOPS indeed.