posts tagged with 'home'

this moment

Harvey sitting on the porch floor using a ruler to measure distance on a string

measuring the time line

A moment from the week.

a homeschool day

When we let it slip that we homeschool, we get a lot of questions about details. "Do you use a curriculum?" is common. We don't, and often what we do is so far from what someone interested in "curriculum" would expect in an educational setting that I can't even think of how to respond. But sometimes it all hangs together to make it look like I know what I'm doing. Like yesterday.

Harvey working with our homemade balance (a 1-by-2 teetering on a block)


On Sunday Harvey and I were talking about balancing and balances, so first thing Monday morning we set one up in the living room. We started with pairs of blocks and then moved on to a wide variety of other objects, comparing weights and noticing that size and weight aren't always clearly related. (And of course, part of the lesson was letting Harvey and Zion tell me that, when one side of the balance dipped, it meant that the object on that side was heavier). We learned that a small stone weighs about the same as 217 foam base-10 blocks—and less than Harvey's new wooden boat, a kit from Home Depot that he put together over the weekend. "Does that mean that my boat won't float?" he asked me (it had been an topic of discussion earlier). "I know stones sink..."

Before we dealt with that question, we had some math practice to do. Which because sometimes I plan ahead was totally tied in, and also gave Harvey a different way to think about addition and combinations.

a math worksheet

this was just as much fun for him

A little bit later we took what we'd learned about weights outside to the wading pool. Harvey's intellectual hypothesis was that his boat would sink, being heavier than a small stone, but his common sense told him otherwise; and indeed, it floated fine. So did a big heavy piece of lumber, while very very tiny light stones sank instantly. I proposed an experiment using tin foil, which had the following results: a ball of tinfoil will float, the same size sheet of foil folded will sink, and a canoe molded out of foil—again, the same size piece—will be able to hold many rocks before sinking.

a boat molded out of tinfoil floating, supporting several rocks

interesting results

Leaving the pool to the littler boys, Harvey and I retired to the shade to think about what was going on. And it didn't take much hinting from me for him to realize that the important factor was the proportion of air contained within an object. That led us into a discussion of density, and memories of the helium balloons the boys got at Bedford Day helped us to imagine how even gasses could have different densities. For a more explicit demonstration, we looked at what happens when you combine water and oil, and water and honey: compared to water some liquids sink, and some float (we did the oil and honey in separate containers so the boys could drink the honey water when the experiment was over).

That was our school day yesterday. Today I painted the porch and the boys played hide and seek. It's homeschooling.


science curriculum

This morning the boys were hanging around the bus stop and felt a little left out when the school kids all got on without them. Then finding a dead snake cheered them up.

close-up of the snake's back, on a ruler

a dead snake

At Harvey's suggestion, snake study made up most of our school time. We carefully observed color, texture—and of course size.

Harvey measuring the length of the snake with a tape measure

21 inches

We noticed that the snake had eyes but no nose or ears; and eyebrows but no lashes. This particular specimen was also without teeth.

macro of a dead snake's face

alas poor yorick

To finish up, Harvey did a scientific drawing of our specimen. With a little guidance he produced three views: the whole back, a close-up of the head, and detail of the underside.

Harvey drawing views of the snake

art and science

The only problem is we didn't have any good ideas of what to do with the snake when we were done (besides feed it to the chickens, which doesn't seem scientific). I wonder if there's some way we could let it decompose so we could recover the skeleton whole. Now that would be a serious learning opportunity!


this moment

the boys running in a field wearing their historical Wampanoag costumes

home schooling

A moment from the week.

a new school year

Not quite September yet, but we couldn't wait any longer; and Monday does seem the best day to start something new.

Harvey on the front porch, smiling and holding his Grade 1 sign

proud first grader

Not that it makes that much of a difference, since we were doing school stuff all through the summer—as much as we ever do, that is. Harvey finished three or four worksheets dated the 28th, for example, that we corrected together today. But it felt different, and not only because we made the sign—we were more focused throughout the morning on doing school things together than we've been for a while. Not completely focused, mind you, because we were also trying to come to terms with finding at breakfast that our fridge had stopped working, but still.

We had to have the sign; it's apparently a thing for homeschoolers. Harvey designed and wrote out all by himself (with my directions for what it needed to say: grade 1 and his name). He only asked me about what colors are in the rainbow. Zion made a sign too ("pre-K") but he wasn't as into it, and was otherwise occupied when I took Harvey's picture.

After the signs I had Harvey tell the story from a wordless book (Wonder Bear, by Tao Nyeu). We also played soccer, and practiced counting patterns and adding to make 10, and took a walk and a bike ride, and drew pictures. And talked about kindness and responsibility and being a good listener. It was a pretty full day!

And don't worry about the other two boys who aren't in "school" yet: they had a fun time too!

Zion and Elijah standing outside their house made from a blanket draped over the tipped-over rocking chair

happy homeowners


out with the new, and in with the old

One of the reasons we wanted to live in this house was because of the porch. It runs the whole width of the front of the house and half of one side, and it's just the place to hang out in the shade on a hot day or under cover during a thunderstorm. It also serves as storage for some of the bikes and car seats—less ideal but maybe even more necessary. All is wonderful, but for one thing: it's falling apart.

Specifically, the pillars that hold up the porch roof, put up maybe sometime in the early '90s, are rotting where they meet the porch floor. In some cases the rot has spread to the toe rails, causing the railings themselves to lean crazily. When two sections of railing by the side door—where the kids like to play—came loose completely, we knew it was time to start fixing the problem.

rot at the bottom of a porch pillar

amazing it's still standing

Luckily, when the previous owners of our house put in the new pillars they tucked the old ones under the porch. I don't know why, but as it happens four of the five stored columns made it through their 25 years of time off as good as new, and are ready to be pressed back into service.

the new old porch column, needing paint but solid

prettier and more solid

Along with just swapping the pillars I also have to replace all the railings, which takes some new lumber; and the renovations of the '90s added three more columns, so I'll need to buy four new ones to finish the job; but it sure is nice to have a head start!


school's out, but there's no escaping home-schooling!

Whenever I hear about anyone else's homeschooling I get the sense that I really need to up my game. Other people sound so focused and organized and intentional! That isn't me. But we do like doing school when we have a moment, and now that "real school" is done for the summer I have lots more time to hang with the boys, and we took advantage of it this morning. We started off with some soccer in the yard, while it was still cool out, then we came in to talk about what happens when you cut a half in half—something that was a topic of discussion yesterday at a moment when we didn't have any writing materials to hand. The blackboard is just the thing!

Harvey writing a fraction on the blackboard

writing fractions

We also learned the order of the days of the week, which seemed necessary after our study yesterday; as I wrote this morning on the facebook, "Only at Archibald homeschool: learning the etymological origins of the names for the days of the week before the order the days go in". But I think he's got both now.

Then we went to the beach for four hours.

Friends of ours who have been homeschooling for a few years just started a blog, which maybe will be just the thin end of a bigger project to come. If you're interested in reading more about open-ended learning at home, do check out Family Learning Adventure—they're motivated now, so you'll hear a lot more about it than you will from the lazy educators at this site here!


authority in homeschooling

A couple days ago Leah was chatting with a friend of ours who's interested in what we're doing with homeschooling. She has kids the same ages as Harvey and Zion and was wondering if we're using a particular curriculum. "No, not really," Leah told her. "We just do whatever seems interesting at the time." Pressed on the subject, Leah allowed that our goals for Harvey are based loosely on the Massachusetts state standards for kindergarteners.

The friend sounded relieved. "Oh, so you know what to teach."

Well, sort of. While there are occasions when I do think I know what to teach, I'll tell you that the state standards don't have much to do with my sense of confidence. In fact, I don't really look to them for direction at all; they're only part of our homeschool planning to make the operation look a little more legit (and, I suppose, to make sure Harvey will be able to join in with his age peers if he decides he wants to try public school). But really, kindergarten learning shouldn't be that complicated. We need some number sense, some literacy, some scientific observation, and lots of opportunities to explore where natural curiosity leads. We can do that!

In lots of areas, the temptation to look elsewhere for authority is strong. Our world-spanning communication system seems to give us access to the best of the best in everything, at least as a model—bread, for example. While it's sometimes nice to have awesome models to aspire to, though, it can also be paralyzing to beginners to gaze across the gulf separating them from the masters (f haven't written about that problem before I really should sometime). But that's not even really the issue here, because even the hot new Common Core standards necessarily represent anything like best practices for kindergarten teaching. Consider this article from the Washington Post back in 2013:

We reviewed the makeup of the committees that wrote and reviewed the Common Core Standards. In all, there were 135 people on those panels. Not a single one of them was a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional. ...

When the standards were first revealed in March 2010, many early childhood educators and researchers were shocked. "The people who wrote these standards do not appear to have any background in child development or early childhood education," wrote Stephanie Feeney of the University of Hawaii, chair of the Advocacy Committee of the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators.

What that means is, if you care about educating young children there's a pretty good chance you can come up with goals at least as good as those you'll find in the Common Core or state standards! And even better, the goals you design for homeschooling will will be based on your own children's interests and learning styles. I understand that folks might want confirmation that they're moving in the right direction, but if you ask me the best place to look for that is your kids themselves. Are you doing things with them? Do they like learning? Then you're probably fine! If you ask me, teaching isn't really all that hard; certainly a whole lot easier than making bread!


homeschool parent nerves

When you homeschool, people are naturally interested in what you're doing with the kids. Only I always feel a little sheepish when they ask me, because my answer tends to be "not much." Or maybe that's not quite fair: it's just that most of the learning we do tends to be pretty much randomly scattered around the day, unconnected to anything we could ever hope to label as "curriculum". There's not much in the way of assessment, either. Sometimes this makes me a little nervous; as I mentioned last year, I tend to be a little competitive when it comes to the achievements of my offspring, so there are definitely days when I think that I should sit Harvey down and put a test in front of him or something. Actually, when I'm in those moods it's mostly the sitting down that feels important to me—I think of all those millions of kids learning to hold still and follow directions and wonder if Harvey needs to be doing that too.

Which of course is ridiculous. He absolutely can sit still when he wants to, and in lots of ways is basically a model student. Check out this video of him at age two to see what kind of a baseline we're working from (really, check it out: it's pretty much the best video ever made). If someone is ready with interesting content, or even a compelling reason why boring content is worthwhile, he'll be totally willing to endure the presentation. And in my more rational moments I know that what he needs isn't more sitting, it's more running around playing imaginative games.

So mostly I let him run (or build with legos or listen to music or whatever). But every once and while we throw formal schooling a bone. Here's the last formative assessment he did, back in January (formative assessment means "test" in teacher language).

a scanned math paper

the sticker is how they do it at school

Today Harvey, Zion, and I sat and drew pictures for each letter of the alphabet. That is, Harvey and I drew, and Zion looked on and told us what letter should be next. Harvey easily thought of something to draw for almost every letter (I was particularly impressed by his quick choice of "quilt" for Q) and he drew everything confidently in his own, admittedly non-standard, style. That seems like pretty fair for kindergarten if you ask me. So tomorrow if all we do is play legos, ride bikes, and read stories, I won't feel like that's any kind of a problem at all; and maybe I'll even be able to own it proudly when someone asks what we've been up to.


sick days

School is dangerous. We had a homeschool gathering here this past Friday, and illness entered the house with one of the visiting children. Harvey went down first, slowly collapsing Saturday evening and throwing up all night. So the rest of us kind of knew what to expect, which is... something of a relief? What's surprising me know is how long it's taking Zion and me in particular to recover. Neither of us have gotten our appetites or energy back, and four days is an awful long time to go without eating real food. Leah's managed to mostly escape the plague, but at least one of the other kids who visited Friday also got sick, and I fell pretty bad about letting an event I planned become such a disease vector.

I'm not going to let it stop me doing something similar in future, but I might wait for the next one until it gets a little warmer, so the kids can spend a bigger part of the time outside. It's hard, hard to stay indoors this much from an activity standpoint—we've all had enough of indoor activities and indoor voices by this point, I feel—and now I think the germs need room to spread out too.