posts tagged with 'homeschool'

two new forests

Harvey and Zion fording a spring creek

adventuring

Even though we live in the suburbs, there are lots of wild places around to explore (wild enough for us, at least, despite the ubiquitousness of road noise and old stone walls), and the last two days we visited two new-to-us woods. Yesterday we went out to Concord to visit the south end of the Estabrook Forest, which I learned about at the coop meeting on Monday. We climbed Punkatasset Hill, which may be only 290 feet high but is steep enough to be exciting—especially when Zion and I took, oh, a 20-foot sliding fall down a portion of trail called the "ski hill". On the other side of the hill we found brooks, marshes, a deep pond, and a lovely meadow where we had lunch and played in the grass. The woods are much bigger, and paths reach all the way up across into Carlisle to reach Rt 225; I want to go back later and explore much further!

This morning we met up with some of our coop partners for a presentation at the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge. I enjoyed hearing the ranger talk to the group about signs of spring in the woods, and specifically vernal pools; Harvey and Zion report that they didn't, but both of them raised their hands to offer answers or comments several times so it couldn't have been too horrible (Lijah just called out without raising his hand, especially after he got a big laugh from the crowd for his first comment). Following the lesson we were directed outside to look at a real vernal pool. Amusingly, the ranger had us drive the half mile—if that!—to the pool, which he told us was too far to walk. It's not entirely spring yet so the pool life wasn't in full swing, but we were able to net a few macro-invertebrates (a new term I learned!) and watch them swim around in tubs. The adults were interested at least.

the boys watching a ranger talk at a vernal pool

listening from the back

All that took just an hour and a half, so when everyone else left we took to the trails to get some walking in. Unfortunately I hadn't prepared by reading that Wikipedia page I linked above, so I didn't know what the reserve had to offer and the trail we picked at random was pretty dull. By the time we realized where the pond was we were about done—tired out from all the direct instruction—so we didn't even get to check it out up close. If only we had headed straight there—and if only I had realized there were WWII bunkers hidden in the woods!—we may have had a longer and more adventurous visit. Oh well, next time.

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well met

Monday is generally the one day of the week when I go in to the "office" at the church where I work, so it tends to be a day full of sitting (well, aside from the bike ride there and back). This past Monday saw more sitting then ever: after supper I went to a meeting for our homeschool coop, then dashed directly from there to Bedford's Annual Town Meeting. So three meetings on the day, all pretty different—but all positive and rewarding.

I started off with a department meeting at church. I love working with the kids there, and I get to collaborate with great people, so that meeting was entirely fun and relaxing. I was a little nervous going into the coop gathering, since we're kicking off a new semester and I wasn't sure if we were even going to have anyone in the group this spring. I'm a little more in charge than last year too, so I was paying attention. I needen't have worried: we had a fine crowd, and all of us were excited to share our ideas for the things we can do together over the next couple months. The calendar's already filling up—in fact, we have our first outing together tomorrow morning.

Town Meeting is a completely different feel. Where the coop group is looking to work together and came into the meeting ready to find common ground, there's lots more dissension in the high school auditorium when the politically active members of Bedford's citizenry gather to deliberate. It can be stressful sometimes, hearing people's strong views (especially when said views are completely wrong!). But again, I came out of the meeting feeling really positive. All the people there were passionate about wanting the best for our town, even if they disagreed about what that was, and while their arguments were occasionally passionate (or even sarcastic) there was also a sense of shared responsibility and camaraderie that was fun to be a part of. And I'm really glad that there are these folks going to every town meeting and holding the Selectmen to account; I'm the least fiscally conservative person you'll ever meet, so I'm there to vote for all the spending, so it's good that there are some grumpy old folks ready to make sure we really need a handicap ramp to the front of Old Town Hall (I hope we don't; that one didn't pass).

Still, as interesting as it all was it may have been a little much for one day. Today we went hiking. That's more my speed.

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Martin Luther King Jr. and home education

We don't really do "curriculum" here at the squibix home education shop, but when there are seasonal events that I care about you can bet that the kids are going to hear about them. Like the solstice, election day, and, most of all, Martin Luther King Day. We spent four days concentrating, to the extent that we ever concentrate on anything at all, on Dr. King's life and legacy, and on the broader struggle for integration and equality from the '50s to today. Then we made posters.

Harvey's

note the subtle use of color..

The unit got off to a bad start on Thursday when we arrived at the library, blank non-fiction book record sheets in hand, to find that all the biographies of Dr. King had already been checked out from the children's section. Oh well, I suppose that's a good thing overall. We actually ended up with the more interesting books related to the topic—on the Birmingham children's marches, integration in Selma, and the cart that carried Dr. King's coffin at his funeral—but weren't able to find much in the way of biographical information. Then when we got home I thought of checking the Levar Burton's Skybrary ap on the iPad, and lo and behold it had two fantastic biographies (and one bad one). The littler boys listened to all of them a couple times.

The poster project had two goals. We're talking about posters generally, as an example of information design and organizing our thoughts to share knowledge, so it was good to practice that. Plus, I wanted to have a tangible goal to our studies to concentrate minds a little bit. Harvey's poster, above, contains images from the famous "I Have a Dream" speech; see how many you can identify. Of course, I'm not really strict about content: Zion's been very taken with the Reflecting Pool in Washington DC, so his poster contains only a large blue rectangle. And Lijah illustrated a dispute he'd had with his friends the week before.

Never mind; the important work of the week was our conversation around what we read and what we thought. That's most of our learning, actually: conversation over lunch or in the car or sitting on the couch after we finish a book. Conversation about whatever takes someone's interest. This morning we talked about the space program and watched Youtube videos of rockets exploding. It may not be organized, but these children are learning many things. Including, especially, the importance of active anti-racism. Happy Martin Luther King Day; let's make it a Martin Luther King Year.

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when (home education and school) worlds collide

We're lucky enough to be able to spend the second half of every Thursday afternoon with Harvey's friend from around the corner. He's one of Harvey's favorite people, and someone Harvey seeks out assiduously on weekends—the only other time they have to hang out during the school year. So why does our sweet sociable boy sometimes seem less than enthusiastic by the prospect of three hours with his friend? I think it might be because he's not totally ready for his energy level.

See, Harvey hasn't been in school all day. He's just been bicycling, wrestling with his brothers, and being forced by his cruel father to spend hours outside in the yard (and also doing lots of reading when he wants, but that doesn't fit the narrative here). His friend has been working hard doing fifth grade things, which from my personal recollection involve a lot of sitting in chairs and talking quietly. When he gets off the bus, he's got energy to burn and it shows!

I've thought of trying to resolve this mismatch by keeping Harvey more sedentary on Thursdays, but that doesn't really seem fair. So instead I've just tried to talk about it and manage expectations. It's not a big deal: in general, Harvey is still delighted—thrilled!—to spend time with his friend. Even after some tired moments this afternoon, this evening at bedtime he was full of excitement about the sleepover the two of them are having tomorrow night. But it is interesting.

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at the park

Zion revived enough this morning for us to feel able to head out to a homeschool gathering at a playground in Lexington. It's a weekly meetup that's been going on for maybe a month or two now, and I've been wanting to go but never managed to make it happen. Today was the day!

I hear from other parents that it's sometimes a challenge getting their kids going for a "park day", as we call them in the homeschool world, but there's never any problem in our household. We're always game for a visit to a playground! The morning sun had vanished behind clouds and the damp air was intermittently enhanced by windblown drizzle and snow, but that was fine too: it just meant we had to run around in order to stay warm. And run we did, especially when the other kids got there.

We do try and get good exercise by ourselves, and we certainly walk and bike plenty (along with a little ball playing now and again). But when it's just us Archibalds we really don't have the same motivation for, say, a good game of tag. But add just one more 9-year-old, and suddenly things are a lot more interesting. Tag with five people lasted a good half hour. There was also lots of climbing and jumping challenges, and we finished things off with some soccer on the giant artificial turf field. Speaking only for myself, it was more running than I did the whole week prior. Good times. We'll do it again next Wednesday.

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summer's final assult

After a week of lovely mild weather that had us feeling like fall, it turned hot again. Terrible hot. I don't know if yesterday and today were really the hottest days of the year, or if they just felt that way after a little while of getting used to cool evenings. Anyway, it's back to summer for now. We're trying to make the best of it: yesterday we went tot he pond in the morning for two-three hours, then came home for lunch before heading over to Lexington tp visit the farmers market and play giant checkers at the giant checker board. That last part was where I succumbed to heat exhaustion, so I had to drag the children away before they could finish their third game. I was restored a little later by dinner in air-conditioned comfort at our friends' house; fair exchange for bringing their son along with us on all the day's adventures.

The only problem with our day yesterday is that we went everywhere by car. Harvey rightly pointed out that we should have biked to Lexington; as the eldest, he has dutifully absorbed my prejudice against the automobile. But it was so hot, and I was already feeling weak. Today we made it right by not driving anywhere at all. We took a long walk in the morning before it was too blazing, then Lijah and I had a few quiet hours to ourselves while the bigger boys played with friends. Then after lunch we spent four hours in the cool convivial comfort of the library, reading books, playing on the iPad, and—Harvey and I—practicing Pokemon.

Pokemon is one of our focuses for this fall. On a shorter time scale, so are monarch butterflies. We have at least one—or rather, one caterpillar well on its way to becoming a butterfly. To get us some school credit I thought to academize our informal study a little bit, so we picked up four or five butterfly books to look at over the next couple weeks. I thinking about academic rigor, see, because I'm rushing to finish up the home education plans for the year. It's not that I want to impress the superintendent.. just that I have lots of good ideas for fun things I could do with the kids if only I could manage a little more organization. My thought is if I write them down now they'll have more chance of coming to fruition. We'll see soon enough; because never mid the heat, fall is just around the corner!

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midsummer

We don't celebrate the summer solstice as much as we do some other astronomical moments, because Harvey's birthday is at the same time. But we're totally enjoying this midsummer thing nevertheless. The best part is of course all the evening light—so much to play outside for a couple hours after supper. The strawberries are good too. I'm hoping to get the jam done tomorrow. One disappointing thing though: today was the first weekday of summer vacation for the schoolkids here in town, and our boys were really looking forward to playing with their friends all day. But none of them were around—two families on vacation already, and one all jammed up with activities. We didn't do any activities; just read books, rode bikes, weeded, and went to the library.

No, that's not quite true... there was a little more than that. Last summer our complete formlessness was a little trying at times, so I'm trying to hold on to a bit of a schedule even as the weather calls us to wild outdoor adventures (and to lying around on the hammock...). After breakfast we spent some time thinking about how stories are structured, and then Harvey and Zion did some writing/dictating of their own accounts of playing in the rain yesterday. It was fun, and it made the rest of the delightfully relaxing day all the sweeter. A good start to the season; let's keep it going tomorrow!

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we're learning to cooperate

In an effort to find other homeschoolers interested for Harvey to play Pokemon with I joined a couple local homeschool mailing lists. No Pokemon players, but one of the first emails on the list after I joined was an invitation to take part in a co-op for the spring. It's a big departure for us—we're not really good joiners. Mostly, when I have an idea for something I try to organize it myself. But that takes a lot of work, and I'm not actually very good at it. So cooperating might be a good move.

Of course, I do have some trepidation. The Handbook has lots of text about what you must do as part of the group: attend the weekly gathering, plan events to invite other people to, communicate over the official channels... "Must do" isn't really my thing. But then, I want to do most of those things. The whole point of this exercise is to involve other people in our learning. So I reassure myself that all those requirements are just to keep the flaky homeschool types from ruining things for everyone else.

So then, having signed up, I want the thing to go well! And the way to make that happen is to have enough awesome people participating. The organizers have sent out a couple emails encouraging us to advertise on our social media feeds, but since that's not really a thing for me—though it was once—and, even more, since none of my facebook friends are homeschooling within the catchment area of the group. But! There is a small chance—infinitesimally small, but we have to try—that someone I don't know, who is a homeschooler in Bedford or surrounding towns and who found this blog due to it's awesome Bedford, Massachusetts homeschooling content, might be reading and might be interested in joining the Assabet River Coop for Spring 2018. So:

Join our family this spring for our latest homeschool adventure in the AHEM Coop! Details here: http://www.ahem.info/Events.html

I get ten dollars off the (already low low) price if you mention my name when you sign up, but that's not even what's motivating me. I just figure that anyone who has read enough words of mine to reach this point in the page has to be a pretty cool person, and I'd love to cooperate with you!

The co-op starts up the second half of March. I'll let you know how it goes!

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Pokemon school

Harvey's work these days is focused intensely on Pokemon cards (mine too, to be honest). Mostly the game, but also a little bit of the collection aspect. Since we do school at home, what we do at home is all we do at school; when people ask what our curriculum is looking like I have to tell them it's pretty much all Pokemon. Sometimes there's followup questions about just how we're integrating in into the curriculum—or even integrating the curriculum into our Pokemon play. If we wanted there are definitely options in that direction, including some pretty good ones. But the more active educational interventions, either content- or skills-based, don't really align with how I'm feeling about learning these days.

Content-wise, people question how much time and effort kids put into learning about things like Pokemon cards. I've felt the same way in the past, at least about myself: why is my head filled up with useless information about makes and models of cars—information I never even tried to learn!—rather than, say, plant identification?! I'd much rather be able to pick out an American Elm than a Suburu Baja. I imagine that's the kind of thinking that led to the creation of The Phylo(mon) Project, a crowdsourced trading card game that aims to build on enthusiasm for TCGs to help kids learn real-world facts about things like ecosystems and women in science. Which is totally cool! I just wonder about two things: how necessary is that knowledge, and how fun is the game?

Because you have to imagine that at least some of the fun of Pokemon is intrinsic—it can't all be fad or peer pressure. Most likely the reason why kids are into it is because they like it, and it's fun to be able to master something you like. So if, as an adult, I was to try and trade on that to trick kids into doing Pokemon-themed spelling worksheets, wouldn't I just be telling the boys that their interests don't matter, and that I'm the one who needs to direct them towards the real work?

To be honest, playing Pokemon builds skills without any intervention from instructors required. On the simplest level, it requires reading (to understand attacks and abilities) and math (to calculate damage). And then to get good at both playing and deck-building takes some good brain work in systematic planning, probabilities, and psychology. The specifics of those skills might not be particularly transferable—and the content area learning certainly is not—but I don't think that matters. Developing elasticity of mind and practicing learning are totally valuable on their own; any person who knows how to learn will in time be able to pick up any knowledge, or even skills, required of them.

That said, the teacher part of me is glad to see Harvey's enthusiasm around making a Pokemon Trainer's Notebook (making from card stock, sheets of paper, and embroidery floss) and then starting to write down deck lists and other notes. Especially when he told me he'd have to work to make his handwriting smaller to fit everything in. That's about as schooly as we're going to get around here these days, and that seems fine.

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social studies on site

Never mind that we're meant to be studying Lowell... when we heard of a class in pencil-making offered at Walden Pond on Monday afternoon there was no way we could miss it! It turns out that the folks there put on all sorts of awesome programs—if we had been paying attention we could have been enjoying interesting classes every day of the week. As it was, we were just in time to catch the last Monday offering of the month.

the boys sitting with other kids listening to a park ranger

pencil school

A lesson about pencil-making totally makes sense at the park: Thoreau's family were in the graphite business, and Henry was apparently an innovator in pencil manufacturing (as well as so many other things). The class was a little oversold—we didn't really get to make pencils, but we learned a whole lot about historical pencil-making, the Thoreau family, and life in the 19th century generally. And to be fair, the kids did get to make a pencil... by dropping a lead into a pre-drilled hole in a pre-sharpened bit of stick. Then they got to take their pencils home, which I guess is the important thing.

Harvey with the Thoreau statue, the pencil in Henry's hand

with the master

Of course, since it was a Walden Pond on a desperately warm early fall day, we also made sure to leave plenty of time for swimming with friends. Now that's how you do a school day!

Lijah at the beach sticking out his tongue

happy at the pond

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