Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Homeschool Chronicles {Projects & Progress}

Homeschool  Chronicles
Hullo! Deep in my mind beneath piles of quilts, there is an ocean of philosophy, on which tiny fabric crumbs float like messages in a bottle.  That ocean is churning with soooo many ideas on what it means to learn, and then beyond that, how to teach.  It's a place I like to be.  Wanna join me today?

The last time I reported on the state of our homeschool was clear back in early November.  If you're following the chronicles closely, you may want to reread {Work in Progress} to refresh you memory.  Today I'm jumping off from my intro there to the concept of Project-Based Homeschooling. 

In our homeschool we do language arts constantly, but math and history/science are entertained via the block system.  So, a month of math is followed by a month of history/science (more on our schedule here).  This block system is so refreshing!  When we're doing math it feels oh-so-productive.  Learning is concrete, progressive, demonstrative.  When we switch to history/science learning becomes relational, reflective, interest-led.  Both feel good.  And I want to emphasize the word "feel".  This good-feeling motivates us all.  And, no, we don't have trouble retaining math between times.  If we did - if she couldn't carry over concepts from month to month - I'd wonder what she's truly, really learned. 

As before, I'm going to touch on one aspect of our homeschool for each month.

November/December

In October (a math block month) I devoured Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori Pickert.  As a result, in November I invited the children to choose a "project" for our November/December block (when we want to study history/science).  They would pinpoint an area of interest and then I would encourage, enable and keep them on-task in pursuing that interest.  In my post last November, I compared this project-based learning to sewing:
This is what I do as a sewist.  I get a vision of something I want to make, and I go find out when, where, why and how.  Then I try it, try again and hopefully succeed in making something I'm proud of.  I own the project.  And, in fact, this same trajectory is vital to many, many jobs.

Project-based homeschooling is setting aside time to mentor your children in discovering and implementing this trajectory.  The goal is to teach them how to learn (the what being somewhat beside the point).  You hope they learn to: set goals, develop questions, find solutions, pinpoint materials needed, break big projects down into small segments, persevere, keep up momentum, finish and, finally, evaluate their work.  Ideally they don't just learn about something, they produce something creative to share with others.
To get them started, I put a list of topics I thought Aria and Liam were interested in on our chalkboard at the end of October.  Naturally, they asked about the list, erased some things and added new ones.  Aria's final list:  cats, cooking, China, Great Britain, inventors, Laura Ingalls Wilder.    Liam's final list:  drawing, scary rides, skateboarding, 4-wheelers, motorcycles.  When November began the following week, they'd spent some time pondering their avowed "interests".  Aria (2nd grade) chose Great Britain and Liam (kindergarten) chose motorcycles.  There was a palpable sense of excitement and awe surrounding this process.  They were giddy with power, hehe. 

Homeschool Chronicles
fist significant Internet use

I followed Lori's detailed suggestions for beginning a child-led project.  They brainstormed lists of questions for their topic.  Aria's included, "How many names does Great Britain have and what are they?" as well as "Famous buildings?" and "What do people do?  How do they talk?".  Then I asked Aria to think about how she could find these answers.  Right away, she wanted to search online. Oh the rush of internet access!  I taught her how to Google.  She discovered in practice that general search terms are useless and how to narrow down her query for real results.  After making some progress online, she chose to request books from the library.  I taught her how to search and request books and music via the online library catalog.

About 2 weeks into her project, Aria had learned so many practical skills.  I felt really close to the children, absolutely certain that I was loving them by enabling them to have this experience.  But, she seemed to be losing steam with her library books, so I offered the option of an online unit study by Amanda Bennet on the United Kingdom

It was at this time that Liam's project was coming to a natural end.  He had answered his questions and learned how to draw a motorcycle. I had read to him his library choices a few times...  The unit study was an absolute delight for all three of us.  It's very visual, with tons of online videos that make learning come alive.  Liam was drawn right into his sister's project, which was a win-win from my perspective.  Together it felt like we were visiting these places.  We could almost smell the food, and we could certainly hear their voices.  The unit weaves in science, biographies, cultural interests and language arts, creating super-interesting experience.

making Christmas gifts
making Christmas gifts

This took us right into December, until Christmas and our Disney trip interrupted us.  We have one week of the unit study left which will take us to Ireland.  I'm looking forward to returning to the study at the end of February, when I get back from QuiltCon.

January/February

After Disney, it was time to switch gears to math.  And I have to repeat.... it felt goooood.  The return to structure and measurable outcomes is refreshing after time spent on interest-led learning.  Aria and I cracked open our brand new Singapore Math 2B resources, tentatively embarking on a new curriculum in hopes of a more challenging, interesting experience than Math-U-See.  (If you recall, we finished the Math-U-See second grade book over the course of 2 months earlier in the school year.)

Aria's birthday treasures
Aria's Birthday treasures - a new book and FABRIC!

Singapore Math is a rigorous math program originating with the country of Singapore, whose students enjoy high scores on international tests.  The curriculum teaches math thinking, not just math doing.  Over the course of 5 weeks (Jan through early Feb) we have covered about half of the 2B program (which is a 1/4 of the total year program).  It's fantastic!  The course teaches children to go beyond computing on page to mastering mental math.  We've learned to add and subtract 2 and 3 digit numbers mentally, which is actually a useful skill, learned the easier times tables and completed a money unit, which included the skill of how to count back change like a cashier.

a projects from Sewing School
a creative project from Sewing School

Aria's ability to mentally juggle numbers is growing by leaps and bounds.  Her accuracy is amazingly improved as well (with Math-U-See she made a lot of careless mistakes even though she understood concepts).  Here's a little story that illustrates:

One morning I needed to count out 78 beans for Liam's math experience, but I also needed to check Aria's math worksheets.  I asked Aria to count the beans, suggesting "You might want to count by 2's".  Looking up from my work, she had these funny groups of beans on the table.  "Aria, what are you doing?"  She replied quickly, "Well, I'm making 6 groups of 8 and then I'll just need 3 groups of 10."  Momentary confusion and then, "But you don't know your 6 or 8 times tables!"  Aria, "Yes, but 3 x 8 is 24, so twice as much makes 48."  Homeschool - it's working.

I was worried that I'd be burdened by having to teach math instead of relying on videos to teach her as with Math-U-See.  But, actually, I am totally enjoying digesting the flexible thinking of this program and sharing it with Aria.  Quite frankly, it is interesting enough to interest me.  We'll definitely continue with Singapore Math in the forseeable future.

making for her baby Susan
making for her "baby" Susan (and hats for everyone this year)

And that brings us up to the present, my friends!  Of course there's always more I could share, but this is probably a long-enough foray on these seas for most folks.  If you have any questions about our homeschooling, even the big hairy ones, feel free to share those here or by email.  I'm glad to share my limited perspective, and others might jump in too.

Happy Tuesday!

21 comments:

  1. My home schooling years were some of my favorite parenting memories. My "boys" are all now grown men and we only homeschooled through grade 4 but the benefits were many. Quilting lends itself to many life allegories and I've often thought that it would have been a great homeschooling tool if I had been a quilter back then.

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  2. I was a bit perplexed by the "how many names does Great Britain have" question. I hope that you came up with the right answer - just one. ?

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    1. Haha! Yes, it is a funny question. I recorded it as she conceived of it, but what she means is, "What lands are part of Great Britain?" and "What other names has the same land been called?" So, England being part of a whole. The United Kingdom today, etc. Different books use different names in accordance with the time period, which is confusing to a young child.

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    1. Thanks for the confirmation. I know it is so "off topic" =)

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  4. Good for Aria! I taught 3rd grade for 5 years and it looks like she is learning a lot of the harder concepts we work with in 3rd grade. I worked with my students on using mental math like Aria does. Especially using all kinds of methods like she did with her beans. Grasping those methods of thinking is definitely not easy for everyone, but it is SO beneficial! I'm glad things are working out so well.

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  5. I love reading about this. Being a teacher AND a mom, I am ever interested in learning and always interested in homeschooling as a wonderful option for families. Though we haven't chosen it ourselves, I have oft been tempted as our school system is so overwrought to the detriment of our youth. I look forward to your future posts (both quilty and school-ish!)

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  6. I'm really enjoying your homeschooling posts. Being english born and bred, I was curious to see what the link to the online study page taught about the UK, and it was refreshing because it didn't seem to focus entirely on London and the South. It was lovely to see images from up here in the North.

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  7. It warms my librarian's heart to hear that you taught your daughter how to search for and request materials from the library's online catalog. Yay for information literacy instruction that begins at a young age!

    Also, I love the Aria-with-cat pic...I kinda can't wait until my daughter is old enough to load the cats up into a baby buggy. I'm surprised at how much the kitties will tolerate from my little girl.

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  8. Interest-led unit studies are my favorite with young ones!

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  9. I love reading about your homeschooling journey and I am so impressed with the level of effort and thought you put into it. Your children really seem to be benefitting from it.

    Just a quick question about homeschooling in the US in general which popped into my head - does the US government provide you with any sort of funds with which to buy materials? I can imagine that it costs you quite a bit to buy all the new materials you will need for each school year and then to try other packages if one doesn't work out how you thought it would.

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    1. It can differ state to state, but most states in the US do not provide any funds for homeschoolers. In fact, we pay taxes for public education like everyone else so we pay "twice" for our schooling. Hopefully that will change someday! On the other hand, I have bought a good amount of resources used and when we're done with it we can resell it. That helps!

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  10. We have used Singapore Math for 3 years and I still love it! The first year, I didn't buy the home instructor's guide because I already "know" how to add and subtract, but the second year when I bought the guide was when I really fell in love with the course. The activities and exercises that they have come up with make the learning absolutely painless!
    We are doing geometry in book 5a right now and honestly, I love the instruction time that we spend together. It's a huge perk of homeschooling to get to go back and solidify your own knowledge in so many subjects!

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Jessie! I too got the home guide later on and am so glad I did. It has so much extra to stretch and add to our work!

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  11. Did you buy the Singapore for Liam too? I would like to use it with Sage at kindergarten age. He still has time. I use this kind of thinking with my students. I am thinking of purchasing it to have more to pull from.

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    1. No, I don't use the Singapore with Liam currently, as I don't like to do bookwork with kindergarteners. In first grade he'll be introduced to math concepts like even/odd and greater/less than and all 4 processes via stories. These stories will be then shown concretely (manipulatives) and then abstractly (numbers, algorithms). After this transition I may go right into Singapore first grade math.

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  12. Rachel, Thank you for sharing your homeschooling adventures and quilting. I do not homeschool but every day I think about it more and more, the junk the kids bring home is depressing. My kids are 4th & 2nd grade in a US public school. My older son has attended 2 years of school in Australia and when we moved back to the US he was leaps and bounds ahead of his peers and now over the last two years I can see how he has taken steps backwards. He use to have the most wonderful handwriting, now you can barely read it. Australia seems to teach independent thought, which we know is not true in most US schools. I do work with my kids over the summer on subjects and I think I will look into some of your items you have said you are using. thank you again. Cheers, Abby

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  13. I'm very intriqued by homeschooling. I always said not for us, but more and more i've been thinking about it. RIght now we're only in preschool. Do people homeschool preschoolers? :) I'm thinking about taking my son out of preschool next year, but am worried he'll fall behind, becuase he does learn so much there! ANy ideas of where to begin would be greatly apprecaited. I don't even now where to start (which is one reason I don't know if it's for us!) :)

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    1. People do "homeschool" preschoolers, but that essentially consists of being a good parent - reading to them, allowing for art experiences, being outside, setting up maybe a weekly playdate. Here's a post that may help you get started: http://www.stitchedincolor.com/2013/02/my-recipe-for-kindergarten-at-home.html

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  14. I, too, enjoy your home school posts. It's always fun for me to see how other families "do school"!

    My husband is teaching history this year and the children are so enjoying it! My husband is a genealogy buff (he even has a book published of his family line) and has traced both of our lines back to the Mayflower (we have "old" families, I guess!). He is teaching American history, beginning with why the Pilgrims came to "the New World", their history and what was going on In Europe at that time. It's been really interesting because my husband is part Native American, so he has ancestors are on both sides of so many of the conflicts with the Europeans and the Natives. Having so much knowledge about our families ancestors, he is able to tie in actual family to happenings within our country's past. We are up to the Revolutionary War now, for he is not doing a glance-over of things that happened. He is going slow, giving many details and he encourages the children to ask questions and talk about what occurred. We are Christians and so how we live, and how we teach, is always with a Biblical view. We encourage our children to not only think about the people's lives with in history, which gives us a needed view point as to "why" things went the way they did, but also looks at the different situations according to how we as Christians should respond.

    The children just gobble it up!

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