posts tagged with 'homeschooling,'

outdoor learning in the suburbs

One of my favorite things about learning at home is how much time we get to spend outside. Tons of playing, of course, and educational play opportunities like when the kids spent an hour last week picking wild grapes and then made grape lemonade. But also the chance to do more traditional schooling stuff out of doors amidst the beauty and decay of the early fall garden. All the fresh air makes those math brains work better! The only problem with outdoor learning in the suburbs is that you have a good chance it's going to be hard to hear each other. Because pretty much, as long as it's nice out someone's going to be busy with loud gas-powered lawn care.

Elijah and a friend using math manipulatives at the picnic table with a riding mower working behind them

the joys of garden school

I don't keep records, but it seems to me that the same thing happened last week at the same time. At least the lawn-service guys know their business and get in and out pretty quickly so we only had to deal with the obnoxious drone of the mowers, trimmers, and blowers for about 20 minutes—and it was only too loud to hear each other talk for about half that time. Then they left, and we were able to converse easily again... at least when there weren't airplanes buzzing overhead on their way to land at the airport a mile away.

As for our own lawn care, I'm proud to report I haven't contributed one bit to the noise pollution of the neighborhood in the past couple months. I'm so impressive, using the push reel mower exclusively ever since my gas mower stopped working!

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crystalized expectations

School started today in Bedford for the public school kids, but not for us: we've got a vacation trip planned next week so we're in summer mode for a little while yet. But that doesn't mean we're not learning! In advance of our geology study this September I checked out a book of experiments for kids, and the photos of crystals were deeply attractive to Elijah. For days he asked me if I'd help him make one, but I put him off: my feeling is that those things never work. You do all that prep work and imagine a beautiful crystal growing before your eyes, only to have nothing happen at all for days, and then only a vague scattering of grains. I wanted to spare him the disappointment. But he persisted, so a couple days ago we followed the instructions for experiment one: we boiled a cup of water, added three-plus cups of sugar—slowly, stirring the whole time—and some food coloring. Then we poured it all in a jar, let it cool a little, and put in sticks coated with sugar (seed crystals) for the thing to grow on.

As I expected, it didn't work. But the failure mode was the opposite of what I though would happen. Rather than nothing happening at all, within 12 hours nine-tenths of the solution in the jar had crystalized solidly to the point where we couldn't even pull the sticks out. Maybe we used too much sugar? Boiled it too long? The recipe doesn't say anything about what might possibly go wrong, so I guess more experimentation is required. Which is really the point of science, I suppose! It's going to be a good year.

school's out for the summer

We celebrated the end of our school year today with a trip to Berry Pond, the gem of Harold Parker State Forest. The plan was to meet our friends there at 10:30, but we were ferociously late getting going. Never mind, so were they! We pulled into the parking lot at 10:50 only a little after them, and after that everything was pure relaxation.

the kids playing in the water at Berry Pond

summer

The best part of Berry Pond is that you can be on the beach and in the shade. You can even swim in the shade! Though it wasn't that warm a day, so we parents were happy to stay out of the water completely. Not the kids though: they were in it all day.

Or not quite all day: there were two exceptions. First was for food—befitting our celebratory gathering we had quite a spread, including chips, popcorn, crackers, veggies and dip, strawberries, brownies, cupcakes, and two kinds of lemonade. And then everybody had their own packed lunch, too, not that those lunches got much attention.

the kids at a picnic table loaded with treats

treats

The kids also took some time off from swimming to walk halfway around the pond to a beautiful rocky spot opposite the maintained beach. It's a perfect place for getting in the water, except for one thing: it's absolutely covered with "no swimming" signs. That's so unfair that I did have to let the kids go in for a little bit, but couldn't hold out against the pressure of the rules for as long as they wanted to swim. So sad.

the kids swimming off the forbidden rocks at Berry Pond

how can such a beautiful spot be forbidden?!

But never mind, the beach was good too—good for well over two hours of swimming and relaxing and being together to mark the end of this strangest of school years. Not that too much will change: our same group is getting together next Monday. Call it summer camp?

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all kinds of learning

This past Sunday I titled one of our "moment" photos "playing with fire", because that's what the Bubble School kids are into these days. Both school days at our house last week they spent all their outside time making campfires and boiling water, and yesterday in Acton they were excited to do the same thing, with the additional fun of building a shelter by their fire pit (since our friends' yard isn't blessed, like ours, with a playhouse). Some of us parents were slightly worried about the possibility of conflagration—they were doing their fire-building in a corner of woods thickly carpeted with fallen leaves—but when I went out to check I saw that everything was so wet they could barely keep their kindling burning without constant effort from the lighter. So probably no conflagrations were likely, and we could rest easy with an occasional check-in glance out the kitchen window. Or so we thought!

No, the kids didn't set anything on fire (though they did succeed in getting the fire in their ring to be self-sustaining after a half-hour of sustained work!). But a neighbor was even more concerned than we were, and she came over and, after staring for a while, asked the kids if their parents knew what they were doing. Well of course we did! And as we heard the story afterwards, the oldest of our wonderful gang of kids—not Harvey, he's the second-oldest by a month and a half—had the presence of mind to answer. "Yes, they do, thank you," she said. "Goodbye!" (She emphasized afterwards that she said "goodbye").

Now of course, if they were hardened juvenile delinquents they would have scoffed at a question like that—or worse!—but our homeschool children are sensitive! There were some tears when they came in to report to us, and it took some work to reassure them that no, they hadn't actually done anything wrong. Some people just like to... involve themselves in other people's lives. It was too bad, but even as some kids were upset it was awesome to see how they supported and comforted each other. And even better, they went back out and relit the fire that they had stamped out after the neighbor's visit. And this time they set a guard to make sure they'd be ready if she came back!

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happy birthday Dr King

Today is Martin Luther King Jr's birthday. We studied his life this week, and today in Bubble School the kids each gave their reports. (I freely acknowledge the potential pitfalls in doing Black history with a bunch of white kids, but I think trying is still better than the alternative—and anyways, at this point 1/3 of our school population is 1/2 non-white, so there!) Our discussion was sensitive and nuanced. We talked about the considerable role Dr King played in the Civil Rights movement and also about the fact that there were others, less famous, who played roles that were just as significant. We talked about the importance of non-violent protest, and also thought about situations where violence is necessary for tactical or emotional reasons. And we celebrated that there is a Martin Luther King Day holiday, while also all agreeing that we have a ways to go, both as a country and as individuals, before Dr King's dream can come true.

Without libraries the research was more challenging than it might have been—like everything in this pandemic. But our group found a way to make it happen, using a combination of web sites (mainly Wikipedia), audio books from Audible and LeVar Burton's Skybrary, documentary films, and audio of Dr King's speeches. Plus the diversity of sources gave us a chance to talk about historiography, and why you might want to seek out a variety of accounts about any one person or event.

Martin Luther King Day is Monday, of course. We're not taking school off that day, though; we're honoring Dr King's memory by meeting, talking about his legacy and the road ahead, and eating a cake to celebrate his birthday. We're looking forward to it!

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back to school

I don't know how the school kids felt about going back this January, whether to their classrooms or their remote terminals. Given what Christmas looked like this year, maybe they were fine with it; even excited. But there's no way they were as happy as we were, because our return to "school" this week has been absolutely delightful. We started off on Monday with a joyful reunion with our bubble group, who came over for the day. Certain of the children were looking forward to doing some math work, but that didn't happen; instead, we talked (and wrote and drew) about what we're looking forward to in 2021, listened to some stories, ate lots of dessert together, then took a long walk in the woods. After school time ended, the kids who got to stick around a little longer did woodworking in the basement and made some swords, which they of course proceeded to battle with.

kids on a rock ledge overlooking the airport

school friends together

On Tuesday Harvey's online classes started back up. He enjoyed playing his banjo with his grandpa and cousin in his music class, and had an even better time hanging out with the boys of the ancient history class. The younger boys did Zoom yoga with Grandma, which activity has replaced their read-aloud now that they've finished Tuck Everlasting (and received yoga mats and blocks for Hanukah!). And Wednesday was the online book group party celebrating the completion of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Elijah was super excited to wear his monkey costume and bring a peach, and the other boys were interested enough to come up with costumes of their own. In the event peaches were not available, it being not at all the season, but Lijah was contented with a jar of canned peaches from the basement. The best part of the party, though—the best part of this whole book group—was the tea: herbal tea has a fairly important part in the story, so one of the things all the kids enjoy is having some as they listen. I'm working during book group time so the boys have to make theirs themselves... which I think makes it even more fun.

I thought today might be a bit of a letdown, with nothing on the schedule, but that was actually perfect for Harvey. He's been after me for a couple weeks to teach him programing, and today we finally had time to get started. Not that I know too much about the subject, but more than him—and certainly enough to pique his interest. Today we wrote some pseudo-code to talk about functions and loops and things, and then did some actual programing in Apple Basic (which, delightfully, is implemented in Javascript here). And we also took a good exploring walk. All in all, I think our first week back is going pretty well.

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Native American study

One of our focuses so far in Bubble School (to the extent that we can focus on anything at all!) has been the Native people of the Northeast. It's a little bit because we started school on Indigenous Peoples' Day, and a little more because we're all interested in living a little more lightly on the land—and respecting and honoring the people who the place where we live really belongs to. We've learned some things about cooking with corn meal and making wetus; but the thing that I've learned most dramatically is that the history of the tribes of what is now New England is told entirely through the lens of the colonizers. Even in sensitive, scholarly accounts of the Eastern Algonquin people, they hardly exist before white folks wash up on these shores and run into them.

That's actually not surprising, given the historical situation. The Algonquins didn't have written history before colonization, and then the pace at which the genocide proceeded after made it impossible to preserve anything but the most superficial details about their stories and way of life over the last 10,000 years. It's pretty depressing.

We learned a little bit about that genocide too. The most rage-inducing part of it, as it applies to modern day, is the fact that tribes like the Massachusett and Nipmuc are denied Federal recognition because, contra the laws defining recognition, they don't "comprise a distinct community [that has] existed as a community from historical times." Yeah no duh, that's what a genocide will do. Other tribes, such as the Pennacook, no longer even have any groups big enough to be seeking recognition. All that: that's the history that's available to us. What if that's the history that was taught in Massachusetts elementary schools at Thanksgiving? One day.

In the meantime, I'd love to find even a little bit written by Native authors, even if they don't have any more access to pre-colonial history than white historians. We would appreciate at least a little balancing of the voices. Any suggestions? (Not entirely related but close: here's an article I read today about preserving foodways among Canada's First Nations..)

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bubbling up

Monday was an exciting day at our house. After a couple weeks of thinking and planning and feeling each other out, we had the first full day of our in-person school bubble. It was so great. With two other families, we gathered on the back deck to talk about Indigenous Peoples' Day, do some math and literacy work together, and process acorns in water boiling on the fire. And play and talk, of course. And when the rain got a little heavy for the group working on paper, we even went inside! The first time anyone but us has sat on our couches in almost seven months was a big moment... and it's not a coincidence that it was some of the same people who were here the last time back in March.

Lijah and two friends doing math work in our living room

math with friends!

We're part of a co-op, but it's having trouble getting going this fall. That may be my fault—I refuse to admit to any particular leadership, but I'm certainly one of the main organizers. In any case, between everyone's different schedules and risk profiles, nobody's really wanted to commit to in-person events; and most of the kids aren't that big on video-conferencing (we're trying to stay away from it ourselves, at least while the weather stays warmish). So a couple weeks ago I reached out to two families who we see socially who were also willing to consider getting together, and we agreed that we could try bubbling up to do some school work.

The bubble part is, of course, new and exciting—we spent five hours together yesterday, easily the longest stretch of time we've shared space with anyone since the pandemic started. But the school part is new too! For the last few years our co-op activities have been limited to fun outings, enrichment activities (awesome ones, to be fair!) and book groups. This fall we're going to be trying to do a little more consistent work together on things like math and writing, and giving our kids a chance to work with age peers rather than their siblings all the time. It's still a work in progress, but it was encouraging yesterday to observe the attention span the kids showed for working together. We're planning to gather every Monday and Friday, and we'll see how it goes... we have high hopes!

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other teachers

Our homeschooling is ticking along fine, pretty much on the model of previous years: we start the day with a morning meeting, then the boys have an hour or two of work time, then it's on to adventures and playing and all the other important things. One thing new this year, though, is that Harvey is involved in a couple of fun learning opportunities led by people who aren't me!

The first is an Ancient History class organized by one of our good homeschooling friends. He was invited to participate at the last minute, but with 24 hours notice he was able to read the required chapter via phone photos of the book and join in the initial meeting in fine form. Since then we've got him his own copy, and he's been able to join in the age-old middle school history practice of reading chapters and outlining them. How else do you learn history?! Then he gets to take part in a Zoom meeting on Thursday afternoon with three other super cool middle school boys and talk about saber-tooth acorns and Old Norse runes and also, I assume, a little bit about Egyptians and Sumerians.

Harvey's grandpas are also doing their part to contribute to his education this fall. Also on Tuesdays my dad is running a class for Harvey and Harvey's cousin Nisia, who's in fifth grade. They're doing a multidisciplinary study incorporating music, science, and literature, all based around a pop tune from 1948 that he arranged. And on Wednesday morning Harvey and Zion are getting tennis lessons from their other grandpa—not just playing tennis, but doing footwork drills and everything. Both grandpas are retired now, so they have plenty of time for projects—and we get the benefit!

It's awesome watching Harvey working hard on all these things, without any organization from me needed. I'm going to have to offer something for other kids I know to return the karmic favor. What can I teach about? Maybe Vikings: I certainly have plenty of knowledge to share about runes!

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our school at home

The Monday after Labor Day seems like as fine a day as any to kick off our fall season of school at home, so that's what we did today. Not that you'd notice, necessarily, if you didn't know us and just happened to pop in. We started things off after breakfast with a chat about what learning means, and what school means, and how there's lots of learning outside of a teacher-student relationship, and how it's also sometimes good to do some formal study and practice. You know, to lay the groundwork. Then we went outside to see if we could spot any signs of monarch butterflies on our milkweed plants. We found plenty of chewed-on leaves and one egg, but no caterpillars. We also observed various other flowers around the yard and thought about how much butterflies might like different types (we noticed that, this morning at least, many many bumblebees were enjoying the goldenrod). We made a yellow and purple bouquet to bring inside.

Then I had a Zoom meeting for work to attend, and the boys did a little writing and drawing. Bedford schools aren't in session yet so before long a friend stopped by, and they went out to play for a while. After lunch we did a little cleaning, then we headed of for our first homeschool co-op outing of the fall: a hike at the October Farm Riverfront (I wanted to do something with people today, since yesterday marked six months since Covid shut down our co-op in the spring). Not everybody is ready to do that sort of thing yet, though, and even those who are aren't really organized yet. So only one other family joined us. Never mind, we had a great time playing in the river and the mud and on the hills, and noticing grasshoppers, stick insects, poison ivy, frogs, and oak galls (and collecting, temporarily, examples of all of those except poison ivy). We also brought home rocks, sticks, mussel shells, and broken glass; we saw racoon tracks, but couldn't think how to collect them short of photographing them. Oh, and we also saw herons and egrets. No attempt was made at capturing either.

Nowhere in there did we do any math, despite it being the top-listed attraction of school at home for two of the three boys (Harvey said he was most interested in music learning). So there's still plenty to look forward to for tomorrow!

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