Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Who are you and Why do you seek me?

Sarah turned 9 (!!!) on Friday. On Saturday we had a wizard birthday party, turning the livingroom into a wizard's study, decorating spell bags and wizard's hats, setting up a potions lab, and leading the kids through a wizard adventure/scavenger hunt. The kids seemed to have a great time, and I had a *wonderful* time setting up the wizard study (and covering the walls in wizardy quotes like the one above). Sarah got wonderful piles of books, some great board games and art supplies, and lots of outdoor toys and equipment.

Last week we finished up this round of our focus on folk tales and mythology (we made it all the way through the _Lady of 10,000 Names_ book of goddess stories and _The Story of Religion_, but only about halfway through the _Gods, Goddesses, and Monsters_ book -- I suspect we'll be taking it out of the library again sometime soon -- they were all awesome). This week we're back to focusing on math for our theme -- doing the projects we never got around to during our last pass through with the _Math Alive_ books, reading _How Much?_ (a gorgeous picture book on different types of marketplaces around the world -- I loved the way the artwork draws you right into the scene, feeling as if you're surrounded by the scents and sounds of the market), bits of _Science in Ancient Egypt_, _Science in Ancient Mesopotamia_, and _The Secret Life of Math_ (my favorite so far -- it leads the reader through an examination of the question of why math has existed in such similar ways in civilizations so far apart in space and time -- we've done tally sticks, kept tallies on "animal skin" scrolls (actually brown paper bags), and I think next we're making Incan quipus (knotted strings used for keeping count)).

We're outside a lot right now -- learning badminton, playing soccer, taking walks in the neighborhood, doing a little gardening -- and generally leaving more time than usual open to the whims of the moment. It doesn't work well for us to leave our whole days like that -- we just drift too much, and we're both disappointed when the end of the day comes and we haven't gotten around to any of the things we'd meant to do -- but it feels nice and summery to leave our afternoons open for spontaneity.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Life skills we've focused on so far, this week:
* making fruit salad
* choosing ripe fruit at the store
* phone skills
* letter writing skills
* map reading skills
* using the toaster oven
* making change and estimating the final bill when you're shopping
* meditation (we've tried out mindfulness meditation, breathwork, chanting, and guided visualization)

We've also read Greek myths, Chinese myths, African myths, Indian myths, and read an awesome book _The Story of Religion_ which gives a really nice perspective on the history of religion and decent if simple descriptions of many of the religions practiced today.

And now we go into gonzo birthday-prep! Tomorrow Sarah turns 9 and we've got a whole day out planned together, and on Saturday she and a few of her friends are going to be transformed into wizards, thanks to various crafts inspired by a couple wizard books we've got, and the adventure Joe's been writing for them. Sunday, we sleep. Or maybe the ice weasels come.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Happy June! We're completing the shift over to our summer way of being, today. In my head, I just refer to it as our summer semester, because that's just the way I see the world. Growing up, my sister and I would make ourselves Daily Plan lists most summer days -- making sure we got in everything we wanted to -- and I think of this as a version of that. There are all these cool things to do and learn and see, each summer. If we don't maintain some sort of basic structure, we wind up missing out on so much, because the days just drift on by! (I suspect this is similar to the reason I like having all my stuff *out* instead of packed neatly away in shelves and drawers -- if it's not out where I can see it, I forget it's even there)

We've shifted our solo time (when I've got unfettered computer time and she's got free run of the TV) until after we play school -- it used to be first thing in the morning, but it was too easy to just drift until half the day was gone, that way. We've also restructured our playschool part of the day, a little, and made our practice work a more consistent part of the day. Sarah has a very low tolerance for frustration, and while it bothers her that she isn't better at writing or spelling or certain types of drawing, she's refused any offers or suggestions I've made to work on those skills. I've gone back and forth over it, but I think learning to push past frustration is too important a skill, I don't think it's serving her well for me to let this go. So I've asked her to pick one of those skills every day, and spend 15 minutes on them. At the same time, I'll be spending 15 minutes working on a skill that frustrates me (probably songwriting or learning how to create harmonies -- it's so very frustrating that those don't come more easily to me).

Our focus, this summer, is life skills (for Sarah: cooking, gardening, making change, bike riding, etc. For me: basic woodworking, gardening, home repair, time management, music skills, budgeting skills), although we're still picking a theme every month. We've also each designed a badge for ourselves to work on -- mine is a music badge, hers is a bravery badge (she gave me permission to talk to my mom-friends about this, but asked me not to discuss it with any of her friends). And, honestly, we'll still have the usual basic curriculum going on in the background.

I realized that, while I don't separate these things out from "real life" all that often, and I don't make a big deal about it to Sarah, I actually do have a curriculum for her. It was reading Guerrilla Learning, recently, that brought it to my conscious attention. The author writes about learning in context, arguing that that's one of the greatest strengths of homeschooling. I started thinking about the context of our home life, our local environment, the activities and ideas that run constantly in the background because of my interests or Joe's interests, and started noticing patterns. Out of curiosity I made a list, just to see what our unwritten curriculum would look like, written down:

* earth science and life science (gardening, nature journals, hudson river ecosystem, environmental activism, health, nutrition)
* history/geography/polisci (current events, early US history, our family history, NY history, biographies, history of science, political activism)
* world culture (folktales, mythology, comparative religion, nutritional anthropology, world folk music)
* communication (philosophy, great books discussions, family magazine, short stories, writing comic books, family meetings)
* math (constant board games and logic puzzles running in the background, aside from Sarah's personal interest in math)

I think I like our curriculum. I think I'm okay with making it an intentional choice, making a conscious effort to bring in more activities that tie into the subjects we're already "studying".