family fun · Homeschool · well *I* think it's funny... · Worldschooling

Day 868: Pole Dancing and Physics

I’ve been working on our homeschool yearbook—I want to finish it before we start a new year. We’ve been so many places and done so many things (and have way, way, waaaay too many pictures) that I had a hard time figuring out how to organize it. By location? By activity type? Some other theme?

You know what, I finally said to myself, it’s a school yearbook. Do it by academic subject.

It was a great idea, if I do say so myself, because it totally appeals to our sense of humour (Mr. December’s and mine.) Homeschoolers and worldschoolers are forever saying that their kids learn school subjects through daily life (“Baking is science! Comparing quantities of chips in two people’s bowls is math!”) —you get the idea, don’t you? By taking this attitude with our yearbook, we can include pictures of everything from pole dancing to petting an alpaca, and call it all school.

I did the physics page just now. It’s not finished, but I’m including the screenshot to give you the general idea:

A two-page spread in a photo book. Title is "Physics---the study of matter, energy, and the relationships between them." Photographs are of kids in hammocks, people ziplining, playing on a slide, leaning into the wind, pole dancing, etc.
Yes, pole dancing involves rotational inertia and angular velocity.
Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · Worldschooling

Day 850: Here’s the Proof

I’ve been feeling kind of disappointed with our homeschooling this past year; even more so when I look at our last yearbook. Last year we did literature units, grammar, volunteer work, writing projects… and it seemed to me that this year we have very little to show for our school year.

But then I wrote the report cards, and now I feel far better.

Having to fill in comments about each subject area forced me to categorize everything the kids have done since January. All kinds of things floated back to me: history journals, cultural learning through travel, all the books the kids read of their own volition, discussions of comparative mythology, and an entire month of learning about Jewish history, culture, and religion. The incredible amount of nature and science learned in the desert, the museums we went to, the art they did for fun.

It’s amazing how simply writing it down makes you aware of things you’d forgotten, isn’t it?

What will our next school year bring? Yesterday I would have said a return to greater structure and more assignments from me; now I’m not so sure. It seems that the kids learned plenty without being forced—and I’ll bet they retained it, too.

Homeschool · Worldschooling

Day 845: Taking School on the Road

Today I spoke to a friend who had questions about traveling and homeschooling kids at the same time. Apparently I’ve got a wealth of knowledge now; she asked me if I’ve ever put this stuff on my blog, and it occurs to me that I haven’t put it all down in one place before. I’ll try to remedy that starting today, although it may take several posts before I’ve got it all down.

Her first question was, “What school supplies and books do you pack? How do you keep from packing too much?”

Here’s my basic list for school supplies:

Pic of my standing pencil case.
This is my pencil case, not the family one. Same case, different colour and contents.

We take a pencil case for everyone to share. We love ours because it stands up like a pencil cup when open and it’s easy to see everything at once. The pencil case contains:

  • 10 (or so) HB pencils
  • A few sketching pencils (2H, 2B, 4B)
  • a 6-inch ruler and a protractor
  • scissors
  • a couple of ballpoint pens
  • felt-tip pens/markers
  • pencil crayons (just the primary and secondary colours)
  • glue tape
  • a few erasers
  • a small pad of sticky notes and some sticky flags
  • a pencil sharpener

Each child has a clipboard: I’ve blogged about these before. What I put inside them is different now, though. To review: on the outside of each clipboard I’ve glued and laminated a piece of white paper, to create a whiteboard. Inside, I pack each child’s lined notebook and small sketchbook (more on those in a minute), a pencil or pen, and a dry-erase marker; I also include any workbook or worksheets we’re taking with us.

We only take printed books if they are a must-have and we can’t get them in e-format. Anything else we read is on our Kobos, either purchased online or (more often) borrowed from our public library using Overdrive (it’s integrated into the Kobo software.)

When we went to Costa Rica, K had just discovered an interest in dissection for biology. I put together a science kit for the kids by filling a zippered pencil case with:

  • a pocket microscope (ours has a fold-out slide holder)
  • glass slides and slide covers
  • pre-wrapped disposable scalpels
  • tweezers
  • a styrofoam tray
  • straight pins

They never used the kit, although I did; I dropped it from my packing list on later trips, taking only the pocket microscope (because you never know when you’ll want to examine something a little more closely.)

That’s really it for school supplies and stationery. It can be reasonably compact—although on our last trip (to Israel) we did end up taking a few more books that we really needed.

Homeschool · Independence · Kids

Day 839: Free Play

We spent five hours in the park today. Wednesday is the weekly homeschoolers’ meetup, which we try not to miss when we’re in town. E and K spent five hours hanging out with their friends outside, doing what I think kids should be doing—playing games, talking to each other, riding bikes, climbing trees. The parents, meanwhile, sat and talked. Everyone was happy.

It was like I used to tell my kids: “You’re a kid, and your job is to play with other kids. I’m a parent, and my job is to talk to other parents.” That philosophy doesn’t always work out in the average Toronto playground; there’s a lot of helicopter parenting, which makes it hard for kids to play together without adult intervention. But these homeschoolers are clearly my people: only infants and toddlers get closely supervised. From preschool age on up, the kids organize their own games, run around together, and look out for each other. It’s a beautiful thing. I am so glad I found this group.

For the record, E has gone back to her screen-watching ways. Yesterday’s event was still a heartening reminder that she can and will get bored of it eventually. After five hours of active outdoor play, she can hardly be blamed for wanting to sit and do nothing. In fact, I think I might do the same thing, possibly with some strawberries and vanilla ice cream.

Darn Tootin' · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Travelogue · Unschooling · what's cookin'

Day 796: Quiet day at home?

Today was just a regular old school day—don’t all regular school days start with a trip to the shuk for provisions?

We started with journaling. Notably, nobody complained about having to do it. They all sat down with their notebooks and started bouncing ideas off each other. It’s definitely getting easier for them.

Next up: music. I taught them a song about Jerusalem; that’s not to say that they learned it. K sang along but nobody else did, so I’ll probably be teaching them the same song on Thursday.

K playing her viola out on the porch.

Everyone was supposed to find a space and practice their instrument. K got right to work setting up her music stand and tuning her viola; N took the roll-up keyboard to his room with the songbook we’d brought along. R and E, however, engaged in all sorts of avoidance—flopping on the couch while moaning, needing a drink, needing a bathroom. Mr. December started to get fed up with them. I corralled the two girls and took them downstairs with me. It took all my patience and then some, but eventually R agreed to learn the F chord. Then it was E’s turn with me—she started to learn the chorus to Sweet Caroline. And when I say “started to learn,” I mean “played the first four notes repeatedly.” Guess what earworm I had all afternoon?

While Mr. December taught the kids, I did laundry. I had to hit the supermarket first, though, because someone (I’m not naming names) scratched their mosquito bites and bled on the bed sheets (it happened in Costa Rica too,) and I needed something to get the stains out. So that was my afternoon: soaking, scrubbing, and hanging to dry.

Bird's eye view of a bowl of chopped tomatoes and cucumbers with crumbled feta, a wedge of pita with za'atar, and a cup of coffee.

Two kids refused to go to the park after school; I informed them that if they stayed home there would be no screen time and they would be cleaning up the kitchen. They were unmoved. I was starting to despair of them actually doing any cleaning when R finally heaved herself off the couch and loaded the dishwasher. In the meantime, I sat on the patio and enjoyed an Israeli salad with sheep’s milk feta, a pita with za’atar, and some hummus. Have I mentioned how much I love the food here?

family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Kids · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 791: Museum Guy

“We’re going to the museum this afternoon,” I announced yesterday at breakfast.

The reaction was immediate:
“Museums are boring!”
“I hate museums!”
And then: “I’m not going.”

“We’re all going.” I said firmly. “This is a homeschool field trip, thus it’s not optional.”

I was ready for resistance, and I arranged to have a secret weapon this time: The Museum Guy. He’s an educator with a passion for getting people excited about museums, history, and archaeology. I found him through a website called Fun in Jerusalem (they were advertising one of his group tours, which was only for teens and adults) and contacted him about a private tour for our family.

I was nervous about the tour: what if his skill as a guide and teacher and storyteller was grossly exaggerated? What if the kids were still bored?

But the moment he arrived, Nachliel won over the kids by pulling a rubber ducky (a Roman centurion rubber ducky, to be precise) from his bag (when he heard about K’s ducky obsession he pulled out two more.) Then he endeared himself to me and Mr. December by opening with a line from Monty Python: “Apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

Nachliel spent over two hours engaging with the kids, explaining Lag B’omer (which was today) and Shavuot (which is in two weeks or so) and dozens of other things, some of which I didn’t know. He covered the Bar Kochba revolt, setting the kids up nicely for when they go to see Masada (not sure when, but we’re planning on it.) By the end the kids were flagging a little, from the sheer amount of information and all the standing (I think) but they had a fantastic time.

N, whose highest praise up until now has been, “It was almost fun,” told me that “The museum trip was GREAT!” (said with a big smile and wide eyes.)

All of the kids loved Nachliel. And when I asked them if we should book him again for a different museum, the response was a unanimous, “YES!”

“But,” E told me, “ask him to bring more duckies next time.”

I think that’s a ducking good idea. Don’t you?

family fun · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Unschooling

Day 768: Child-Led Learning

Three of us are still feeling sick today. K pushed through and got on with her math work; R had a harder time functioning and I sent her to bed for the rest of the morning. By afternoon, though, she was awake, and I suggested we watch some videos about something she wants to learn. Actually, I might have insisted. R has been feeling unwell quite often, between various injuries, seasonal allergies, and now whatever this is; if she sat out of learning every time that happened, she’d practically never do any school.

Since she loves fashion, I proposed a video series about getting dressed at various points in history. I had never really thought about how curved seams and darts were a form of conspicuous consumption (they showed that you could afford to waste fabric just to make the clothes look good,) or about how the stays a servant woman wore would have to be more flexible than those a noblewoman wore, because of all the physical labour she’d have to do. But now I have, and so has R.

The last “getting dressed” video we watched was ostensibly about the 19th century, but it was more like “How Mary Shelley Would Have Gotten Dressed,” since after the dressing sequence (featuring an actress portraying the famous author) it also discussed how and when Shelley came to write Frankenstein. That led us to the Overly Sarcastic Productions video that summarized the plot of Frankenstein—another thing I knew nothing about when I woke up this morning.

I’m reading a book about unschooling (the title is Unschooling. Ironically, she claims that unschooling promotes greater creativity.) One of the author’s points is that it’s better labeled “self-directed learning” or “child-led learning,” to emphasize that the child is in fact learning things and not just not going to school. That idea resonated with me this afternoon when we followed R’s and N’s interests and somehow covered some history and English literature in the process.

Now I’m off to watch some Bridgerton—uh, I mean, cover some health topics with K.

Homeschool · Just the two of us

Day 764: For the Record

K and I found ourselves together this evening—everyone else was out—and ended up cuddling on the couch in front of the TV. She kept asking questions, though, so there was a lot of pausing to explain. On the upside, I feel like it was a worthwhile effort because she learned about so many different things:

British Parliament, the House of Lords, the House of Commons; Similarities to Canada’s parliamentary system.

Human Geography and Climate Studies
Neighbourhoods and landmarks of early 19th-century London; case study of coal-burning and its effect on air quality.

Queen Charlotte and King George III; the British peerage and aristocracy; laws of primogeniture; status of women in Regency England.

Health and Sex Education
Consent; power dynamics in relationships; common non-pregnancy reasons for missed periods; negative health consequences of aggressive corset use.

Reading the above list, Mr. December ventured, “Are these all the things you can learn from watching Bridgerton?”

“No,” I enthused, “these are just the things you learn from the first episode!”

“Well then,” he nodded, “better put it on her high school transcript.”

Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · Unschooling · Worldschooling

Day 743: Self-Directed Learning

At the public library today, E confidently walked up to the librarian and asked him to help her find a specific book. He was wonderful—after he found the book in the stacks, he showed E the library’s kids’ website.

“We usually do this with kindergarten classes,” he commented. “What school do you go to?”

“I’m homeschooled!” she said proudly. “But I would be in Grade One if I wasn’t.”

He nodded thoughtfully, then continued showing her the browsing section of the website, where kids can scroll through the cover images of popular books.

“Oh!” She cried, spotting something familiar, “I’ve read that one. Actually I’ve read two of the Percy Jackson series.”

His eyes grew wide. “Really?” he said, then looked at me questioningly.

When I think about it, it does seem improbable. Four months ago I was still teaching E how to read, and she was still refusing to look at a book outside of lesson time. How did she ramp up her reading so quickly?

Quite simple, really: she reads all day, every day, on a Kobo with an unlimited supply of books. That’s her curriculum right now. I couldn’t possibly have taught her as much information as she has absorbed from the Magic Treehouse and Percy Jackson (and later recounted to me.)

We’ve taken a slightly different tack, educationally speaking, since we returned from the worldschooling summit. Although math is still compulsory (and reading would be compulsory if we needed to compel them to read—as it is I need to get them to stop reading long enough to look where they’re walking,) we’re encouraging the children to pursue their passions.

Our first few days back I got to work finding tutors and guides for the kids. N wants to learn Greek, and Duolingo wasn’t going to cut it; I found an online tutor (based in Athens!) and arranged for a trial lesson. Both N and his tutor decided it was a good fit, and at N’s request he’s now doing three hours of Greek lessons a week. I think he could do more, but it’s okay if he wants to ramp up gradually.

While I was on the tutoring site, I also looked around for an art teacher for K. She hasn’t been asking for one, and she’s working on her art independently, but I figured that a good teacher could help K go farther in her areas of interest. K was unconvinced when I told her about the trial lesson—in truth, I almost cancelled it—but she ended up really enjoying it. She’s now signed up for two lessons a week.

R is a bit harder to shop for, so to speak, but if she’s truly interested in learning about fashion design, she needs to learn it from someone who actually knows something about garment construction. It’s true that I know how to run a sewing machine; but it’s preferable to learn from someone who’s passionate about the subject, so I’m continuing my search for a good sewing instructor.

Our educational philosophy has definitely undergone a transformation; Mr. December’s views have shifted hugely in many respects. Maybe he’s finally deschooled himself, or maybe it was the influence of the worldschoolers we met, but most likely it’s the cumulative effect of the giant pile of books and studies that he’s been reading lately. I’ll let him tell you all about what he’s learned, though—I can’t do it justice, and anyhow, this blog is due for a guest post.

crafty · DIY · education · family fun · Homeschool · Kids · Unschooling

Day 740: The Right Stuff

Monday’s silicone mold-making experiment was a fail. After curing overnight (the tube promised one hour) the silicone was still sticky to the touch. Back to the drawing board.

Since she’s very interested in the process, I assigned K the task of googling to figure out why it didn’t work. She came back after about half an hour to explain that we used the wrong kind of silicone: ours smelled like ammonia while curing, and we needed the one that smells like vinegar instead (base vs. acid: chemistry class!)

Photo of R's open design notebook, including her sketch and some math. Also in the picture: a giant set of markers and a colour swatch card.

Meanwhile, R was busy working on fashion design. I found her a notebook with thin pages (the better to see her croquis with when sketching) and she set about customizing the cover with a collage of her previous designs. Then she opened up the book and started to draw the dress she wants to sew herself.

R begged me to take her to the fabric store, but I pointed out that she needed to know how much fabric she’d be using before we went and bought anything. She did the math (reviewing radius and circumference in the process) and figured out the lengths she’d need of each fabric.

A photo of me and K at our art table. I'm passing her my clump of glycerine-bathed silicone and she's poking it to test the consistency. Fun fact: on the wall is a decal that reads "don't just stand there... make something"

We swung by Lowe’s (and said hi to all my friends at the Pro Desk) to pick up a different silicone than last time. Back at home, K and I bathed the silicone in a glycerine-and-water catalyst bath and massaged it until it was the right consistency. We embedded objects in the silicone and left them to cure.

Two hours later the verdict was clear: our second attempt had worked! We pulled the hardened silicone away from the objects we’d embedded, and the silicone held its shape (including all the small details.) We still have to make sure that there’s no unexpected adverse reaction when we fill the molds with epoxy, but as scientists say, the early results are promising. So promising, in fact, that we went back to Lowe’s and bought a whole carton of silicone caulking tubes.

That was our school day. Well, that and E’s sewing project (a quilt for a new baby.) N worked on memorizing the Greek alphabet. There were no formal lessons today, just kids engaged in their pet projects with me facilitating where necessary. I don’t know if this is unschooling, but it’s definitely better than dragging my kids through another painful writing exercise.

(For the record, though, K asked if for writing she could just write her own blog detailing her art projects and experiments. Of course the answer was an enthusiastic yes.)

Our two silicone test molds. The one on the left looks dry, smooth, and translucent white. The one on the right looks gelatinous, opaque white, and is falling apart.
Left side: silicone mold made with the right stuff. Right: wrong!