Homeschooling Notes from August and September

Barack Obama and William Shakespeare Enjoy a Tea Party

Last week, Selina threw a little tea party for Barack Obama and William Shakespeare. I thought the irony was worth a photo.

Selina’s favorite thing is “imaginative play.” She puts on little dramas all day long with blocks, dolls, stuffed animals, dress-up alter egos, her sister, and whatever inanimate object comes to hand to be animated. You may remember she even used to do this with her feet.

Sometimes, she creates fantasy people to “help” her with work by changing her voice and talking her way through a problem. For example:

Selina’s Voice: “What comes after K?”

High-pitched voice: “Is it M?”

Selina’s Voice, singing: “A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I,J,K,L…”

Low-Pitched Voice: “No, it’s L!”

High-Pitched Voice: “Whoops!”

Then Selina will find the “L” and put it on her alphabet project. She may or may not ask aloud again until she gets stuck and needs some more “help.”

Listening to her when she doesn’t know you are around is an absolute gas.

Last week, she let me know in no uncertain terms that although she has been asking to learn to read, she cannot abide out-of-context phonics lessons. Sooo…I went back to the drawing board and this morning she took the iPad around and snapped photos of some of her favorite things, like her Pooh bear.

Pooh

Tomorrow, I’ll print her photos and let her label them all and bind them into a “Selina’s Words” book.

Given her love of creating little dramas and characters all day long, I think she is going to be a write-first reading learner.

Teaching reading is fun for me, because Nat didn’t ever really “learn” to read, she just started doing it.

Perhaps Selina would do this eventually too (though I do think Nat’s brain was just prewired to read, at birth), but she has been complaining lately about not being able to read, so I’m stepping in to help her move along. She’s five and a quarter, so I feel it is perfectly reasonable to let her at it.

Speaking of Nat, though, and particularly of her reading, she recently picked up a slightly simplified version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (it amounts to a middle-grade novel as it’s been edited) and started reading it every night before bed–and any other time she could steal. It’s the first “chapter book” she’s shown a sustained interest in reading independently, though we’ve done a few together as read-alouds and she has always enjoyed picture books independently. She got so into Alice,though, that I have been able to pick up on her interest in the story to do a lot of work besides reading.

At Work on the Alice Chart

The first Alice work she did was thumb through the book and put sticky notes on each page where Alice changed size (this was her favorite aspect of the story). She found and recorded the page number, and Alice’s height on that page, then I gave her a roll of paper and a tape measure and she charted out “life-size” pictures of Alice throughout the book–from three inches to “taller than a tree.” Selina and I both helped color and decorate the Alices.

Nine-Foot Alice

One of my favorite aspects of the completed project is that Nat made Alice African American, in spite of her pervasive blondeness in so many of her popular incarnations. We taped our Alice chart to the wall in the hallway so we could admire it for a while.

The day after that, I gave Nat a list of household stuff and had her measure each item in inches and feet, using a tape measure or a ruler, depending on what worked best for the job.

But the next day, she wanted to get back to her obsession, so I had her write a “book report” (though I didn’t call it that), and she enthusiastically did so, raving about her love of Alice and drawing a lovely picture of her favorite scene.

She has seen three different movie adaptations of Alice and she likes the Disney animated one from 1951 best, because it includes scenes and characters she likes that the other versions she’s seen leave out.

Full disclosure: I have never been an Alice fan. In fact, I have always pretty much loathed Lewis Carroll. I mean, he was a dirty old man, and most of the book is a thinly disguised drugged-out political commentary. Plus, I just don’t like the weirdness. I am not a Kafka fan either. I don’t like my own wacky-to-nightmarish dreams and don’t care to read others’. But hey, that’s just me. Clearly this is a book, if not a genre, that Nat adores. So now I’m compiling ideas for other books she might like. Do leave your suggestions in the comments. Keep in mind that she is only seven, so stuff like Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing, or Holes, while just the right reading level, are not going to ring a bell for her, in all likelihood.

One thing that has struck me since I started thinking in terms of school at home, is how much we can get done (academically, I mean) in a short amount of time. This is something I’ve heard a lot about from homeschoolers. I’ve heard more than one anecdote about blasting through a year of curriculum in four months, for example. We aren’t using a curriculum (unless “stuff Mama Shannon thinks would be good to introduce this month/week/today” counts as one), but if we were, I dare say we would be blasting too.

One of Nat’s downfalls in life is that she is highly distractable. One of her gifts is a love of and compassion towards people. I think this was tricky for her to handle in the classroom–even a classroom that allowed her lots of teacher attention and long periods of time to work on what interested her most. The simple fact is, if a kid walks by, she is more interested in that kid and what he’s doing than in the most interesting work of her own.

Last week I was plotting some subtraction practice work for her. (I have been using this websiteto make her crossword puzzles, including ones with written-out math problems. She likes to work the puzzles and I have found all kinds of ways to get her to think about different topics and disciplines via crossword.) Nat finds counters and fingers useful in doing addition and subtraction, but the problems I was doing went up and down from 100, and I didn’t want to have to deal with that many counters, so I decided to make her what Montessorians call a “Hundred Board.” Then of course, I realized that I ought to ask her to make it. More ruler work, lots of fine motor practice, reinforcement for counting to 100, etc. etc., right? So the next day I sat her down and gave her paper and a ruler and a pencil and eraser, gave her brief instructions to begin the chart (make a 10-inch square) and at each subsequent step (make ten one-inch columns…make ten one-inch rows…write out the numbers in alternating colors…cut out the chart…) and with me poking my head in the room every ten minutes to check on her progress, it was completely finished (including erasing and re-figuring out how to make the lines straight) in under an hour.

Nat’s Hundred Board

Now, this may make most of you shrug, but for Nat it’s an amazing accomplishment. I can only imagine the same task would have taken her a week of “work” periods in school last year, simply due to her tendency to get constantly distracted by other kids. As it is, she is super proud of her hundred board. Tomorrow I’m going to have her make a number line from 0-100, with a half-inch between the numbers and put it on the wall too. Then I’ll show her the subtraction puzzle and she can complete it with her math reference tools.

As for me, I’m really enjoying doing this with the kids. It isn’t a far step from my usual parenting style anyway, I just spend a little more thought on how we spend the two and a half hours set aside each morning for “work” (meaning academic work, though all day long we are working and learning in all kinds of ways). We follow a schedule every day, and I don’t mind sharing it with you:

Wake Up

1. Make your bed. 2. Clean up your room. 3. Eat breakfast. 4. Clean up the dining room. 5. Brush your teeth. 6. Get dressed. 7. Read quietly in your room.

9:00

Quiet Individual Work Time

11:30

Lunch/Clean up dining room

12:30

House Cleaning Time

Josiah calls this “Cinderella-ing.” But hey, scrubbing things is VERY Montessori. That’s what I’m gonna tell the authorities, anyway.

1:00

Afternoon Activities (different every day)

4:30

1. Supper/Clean up dining room 2. Evening Activities (different every day)

6:45

Begin bedtime routine.

“Afternoon Activities” might be continuing a project begun in the morning (Alice took all day). Or it might be free play in the girls’ room or a trip to the playground.

About once a week, Nat and I make a trip to the grocery store that entails a list of “things we need” and a list of “things we want” and a budget. Nat adds up the price of each “need” item as we put it in the cart and figure out how much we can afford from the “want” list, once we’ve got what we need. I sort of orchestrate this so that we can never get everything we want. This is probably good for me, as I haven’t been able to “afford” my favorite potato chips in weeks.

In a couple of weeks, the kids begin a soccer program that just teaches the game without any competition. This is good because my kids are not athletes just yet (Selina may well become one though). Chicago Parks and Recreation has all kinds of introductory sports programs and I just want them to get the basics of many things and see if any in particular strike them as special. They are doing dance on Saturdays too. Really, they need (Nat especially really truly needs) an hour of high-aerobic activity every day, but that’s a tough one for non-sporty me. We joined the Y too, though, so when the weather is too cold for the playground we can go there.

I could probably go on about this for another six posts, just about our first six weeks or so of earnest homeschooling. But I’ll wrap this up for now and check in again in a few weeks.

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5 responses to “Homeschooling Notes from August and September

  1. Nat might like Edgar Eager’s magical stories. We especially enjoyed “Half Magic”, where 4 siblings find a charm that can grant half a wish. You can weave in some math with this, as the children need to make calculations, such as wishing to back in time TWICE as far as King Arthur, if that’s the time period where they want to end up.

  2. Here are book recommendations -
    Lizard music
    The Phantom Tollbooth
    The Westing Game
    The Three Children and It (and any other Nesbit books)

  3. I was also thinking Nesbit books.

  4. E. Nesbit is mentioned in every one of Eager’s books–all very delightful stories.

  5. A read alouds, or read alones, with or without help as needed; if she likes Alice, I suspect she’ll like these …

    The Hobbit

    The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

    The Wind in the Willows (some crazy vocabulary in this one; very odd story, too)

    I completely agree re: Lewis Carrol, ick. I do like Alice in Wonderland, but then, I like odd stories and magical things …

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