Our Home Learning Adventure

I truly believe that learning starts at birth and continues until the end. It is the most natural human endeavor, like love. In fact the two are so closely entwined! Freedom to explore and play, allowance to self-direct, and a wealth of exposure to all the wonders, minutae, and even ugliness of real life are what continue to nurture the drive and passion to learn that children are born with. What a joy it is to observe, participate and learn anew along with them!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Part-time home learning, Part-time brick and mortar school

I created this blog as a place to record the wonderful learning my son does at home.  I did it at a time when I was beginning to realize his dad would likely not let us home school without a fight in court.  Now, my son has been in kindergarten for three months.  In many ways he's enjoyed it.  A nice small school, good teacher, great group of friends, and some new stimulating things to do.  The biggest change for Daniel really has been having so much less time to do the other things he loves at home or out with friends, as well as less time to reconnect with self, mama and his little home daycare sisters and brothers.  Daniel is now very confident socially, but he still needs to recharge in silence, get down time, alone time.   He usually opts to walk the 9 blocks home from school in silence, and this creates some needed quiet transition time.  Often, he retreats to his bedroom once home.  But then once he's ready for more action, interaction with mummy and my home daycare kids (and daddy too, I'd guess.  It seems, there, they tend to watch tv or movies int he evening), it's time for everyone to go home, dinner and bed.  When we plan to skip school, once or twice a week, and choose to stay up a little later, there's so much he wants to do, reading, writing or number practice, creating games, building, crafts...where can we get the time for this, let alone, chatting about all the things he's interested in, wants to know about?  Often, when reading in bed, Daniel will encounter a theme he's interested in and ask me to stop reading and just tell him what I know about it....like just the other day, a story set in Mexico, where the conquering of the Aztecs was mentioned and how many were killed by small pox brought by the Spaniards, Daniel wanted me to retell him how the Spaniards won and what small pox was etc.  He already knows this history, and I guess wanted a review.  Of course, it was late, and soon after I started talking, he drifted off to sleep.  With Daniel's 'introverted' need to recharge and process alone, added to the rushed school day, and his every other day and alternate weekend switch between mum's and dad's house, there's so little time to really settle into himself, settle into  projects, explore learning, and most sadly for me, to have real heart to heart conversations.  Anyway, I guess because of this, I've decided to give Daniel the option to stay home from school once or twice a week.  Full day kindergarten is new in BC, and it's a lot for my guy.  We have done all kinds of different things on these days home.  I want to record all this here, but sadly, I seem to rarely have time to do it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Proud of my super inventive son!

I'm never sure how Daniel will occupy himself when we hang out with our super home learning family friends!  These kids amuse themselves, often silently working or reading by themselves for an hour or two.  Will Daniel find something to do?  Will he get the engagement, I feel he needs, will he be bored?  My doubts are always unfounded.  The creativity, kindness, enthusiasm for each other's ideas always rubs off.  Plus, my little dude knows how to occupy himself too.  Daniel wanted to play a board game with everyone, but there where none to play.  S. suggested cards.  Nah!  M. brought out the Jenga, and they played around.  Then, while other's were busy, Daniel invented his own game!  Replete with pretty complex rules, and both girls were into it.  I was sitting working on the sofa in silence, and frankly amazed by Daniel's idea, and by the enthusiasm of the girls to join in, and contribute their ideas.  Later, M. mentioned that Daniel really wanted to play it with me.  Thanks for that consideration, M!  So, here they are setting the game up for me.  A game entirely of chance, but definitely fun.  Each person gets a Jenga colour, and rolls a Jenga die to then picks up a Jenga piece and the card below.  Brown pieces win picture cards (king, queen and jacks), red Jengas win red number cards, and Black ones win black cards.  Everyone wins jokers.  You keep rolling the die until you either get your colour or a star.  If you role a star, you can keep whichever card you lift out from under the Jenga piece, and keep them for points: Jenga piece is worth one, number cards their face value, Jacks 11, Queens 12, Kings 13, and Jokers 14.  If you role your colour first, you can only keep the card that matches it.  Cards that don't match get discarded for the next round.  Each round involves laying out a grid of cards that can be divided by three players with equal amounts of cards each, with each round using fewer and fewer cards (the discards). Very complex!  In the end the game is just luck, but it was wonderful to watch each child, Daniel, A. and M. work out for themselves how to add their points accurately, help each other with this.  Great math practice.  Incredible planning and inventiveness on Daniel's part, and wonderful to see them collaborating on this so enthusiastically.  This was a wonderful "home schooling project"!

First Snow!!! Yippeeeee!!

This morning Daniel and I woke up to the beautiful snow, sadly no pictures of the lovely sunshine.   Daniel was up and dressed and ready to play within minutes, and out he went.  We quickly decided to go join friends to play and hang out in coziness afterwards.  Daniel has definitely come a long way as far as getting into the fight, at first he really wanted to make sure he was on the right team, and wouldn't feel too threatened, but quickly, grew into the pure joy of aiming and ducking!  Later, when the kids went out again in the dark, a wonderful collaborative project of turning one of the giant snowballs into a sofa!  Gotta get a photo of that one.  Thanks guys for all the fun!

Daniel hides where the stash of pre-made
snowballs are in wait to ambush the adults!

Taken seconds before Daniel smacks J. in the face with a snow ball!  Ouch!  Sorry J.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Web of Life, Home-Schooling at The Beaty Biodiversity Museum, UBC Part One

Today I was struck by one of those impressions that crystallize and magnify all that is important to me in life.

I stood silently, outside The Beaty Biodiversity Museum at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, with my new camera in hand, awestruck by the beauty of the 26 metre Blue Whale Skeleton suspended between two vast lengths of glass, the layer of bare autumn branches reflected in the window in front, the white sky a background behind, all creating a graphic image of inter-connecting branches and bones stretching in all directions.

I bore witness to the astounding beauty of layers of life inter-twined in an intricate web, the simple framing of the stark, minimalist concrete, glass and steal structure, the court-yard behind with its wild meadow bordered on one side with young trees, and Salal, on the other by low shrubs and picnic tables, and on yet a third by a border of tall, fluffy white grasses and a long wooden bench stretching back to infinity.   My two smallest children were asleep in the stroller beside me and my two older ones had headed with two other families into the building beside to check out more skeletons.  Along with four or five other home schooling families, we’d spent a couple of hours exploring the museum and eaten outside, then the children had romped in the meadow’s long wet grasses, ran, climbed and played to their heart’s content, made new bonds and collaborations in fantasy play and science experiments alike.  I was feeling overjoyed by the community-web of home schoolers that I am finally understanding are indispensable to my joy and ease, and there I was in this moment of peace after the whirlwind of activity, camera in hand,
. with a story welling up inside me: I knew without a doubt that I want to be with the children, I want to be supported and support my community of friends in offering our children what we feel is the best, I want our children to be free to learn and socialize in the world at large, indoors and outdoors and come to their knowledge and growth through passion, free association with children of all ages and caring, enthusiastic adults of all personalities, skills and temperaments, and as much self direction and independence and loving, nurturing dependence that they need at any given moment from their community of support.  Last of all, I want to take pictures and I want to write about and promote what I love and believe in.

Today was a success because it revealed so profoundly what the first image above portrays to me:  this intricate web of life, made up of home schooling families and others who want to be a huge part in the growing, learning and happiness of their own and others' children, who offer endless support, resources, guidance and companionship, is akin, in many ways to the inter-connectedness of nature.  How can we as humans isolate ourselves, me as a single mum, children in school, separated into same age groups, away from their families, diverse communities, connection with nature and a wealth of experience for so much of the day, when confronted with the reality of the natural world’s inter-dependence including our own fragile relationship within it ?  Are we not all connected and reliant on each other?  What better place than the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, and the meadowed court-yard behind, for this epiphany to happen?

Tune in soon for more, including a summary of the field trip and a review of the museum...

Thank you all for your support!  It was a great day.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

On The Way to Firemaker

Going to Firemaker at Camp Barnard, Sooke - http://www.firemaker.org/ - was one of the best decisions of the year.  Luckily I was inspired, and got in immediate action to organize funds, time off and borrow almost all the camping gear and a ride from the ferry all at the last minute.  Thanks to so much generosity from friends and strangers alike, my son and I made it to this amazing community building survival skills camp out with just one unplanned yet fortuitous detour on the way.  Due to a traffic accident, our bus to Twassen was late so we missed the planned 6pm ferry, and therefore our ride from Swartz to Sooke.  On the ferry we met a mama and 4 year old who suggested we stay in Sidney and helped me find a cheap hotel to stay in.  What a great decision!  Though I initially felt stranded by my ride - this is the first trip I've made with my son that isn't to my folks

Monday, June 14, 2010

Aggressive Play - Honouring the Diversity.

This is my response to a discussion on a local chat group of parents in my area.All were discussing their thoughts about some children - mostly boys - and their parents engage in 'aggressive' or warrior type play.....
Re: Playground politics (cont')

Wow, what an amazing array of thoughtful responses. I love living here! I love
honoring the diversity, and working with our children to slowly recognize that
not only is each individual child's needs and desires to play safely, yet have
their interests and drives acknowledged, but also that there are many different
social expectations around what is "right"...simple examples that tend not to
trigger us as much as aggressive play or weapons, running barefoot, climbing up
the slide, eating ice-creams or super junk food in front of other kids,
ownership of cool toys, bikes, free toys....
Most of all, I think our kids are learning that there are different opinions,
and when choosing play styles, or toys to use in social spaces, we have a role
in how others feel, react to, learn from, shy away from etc. us. Awareness,
relativity and social responsibility!!!!!! The best lessons ever. We and our
kids are a lucky bunch!

Years ago, before I was a mother, traveling in Rio, Brazil with my mum, where
guns are a reality - as security in banks, and on the street as threats, my mum
'took a shot' of a young kid, maybe 3 years old, standing with a huge plastic
toy gun. I remember her exclaiming in sorrow every time we looked at the
picture! I vowed long ago, I wouldn't let my son ever play with weapons.

I did well in the first few years...
Now, he's a master swords fighter: bamboo, cardboard, nerf, bows and arrows,
daggers, pirate pistols.... and yes the good old fashioned stick! Just today, I
was at the family place with two of my older kids, one girl, one boy, who I
found building lego guns up in the castle, and reminded them that I didn't want
them coming down stairs and pointing play guns at anyone; showed them the trick
of turning the lego gun into a camera, how hunting for pictures is so similar...

Yes, media is awful, it's a culprit for sure...but it's the teaching of
disconnect in media we need to remedy.....

I've steeped myself in discussions of social mores, education, child raising, I
was so upset when my son started to play violent games, yet for time immemorial,
children have imitated what they see in society, they work through it, they want
to come to terms with it. On top of that many boys, and some girls have an
incredible surge of hormones and need to exert themselves physically in an
aggressive way that hints of the forces of nature, the elemental core of right
and wrong, or power over....and, and, and, so many of our kids are so lorded
over by their families, pre-schools, schools, restrictions, bed times, rules,
rules, rules, when they find a fantasy play that helps liberate them and switch
power roles, boy oh boy, (girl oh girl) do they love it!!

I heard of one family of two boys who'd been exposed to little media, and whose
parents were committed to non-violent, peaceful, Buddhist relationship with
life. They had not only forbidden gun play or any other weapons, fantasy play
of battles etc.., they had espoused their ideals of non violence, teaching honor
and respect for life, gentleness etc. For several years, they thought it had
worked. Then one night they awake in the middle of the night to find their two
sons fighting in privacy behind closed doors with toilet paper rolls, in the
bathroom, so.....

So, in the end it comes down to, what everyone has said: are others safe? is
someone feeling scared? should we stop or find a more appropriate space? do
others want to join in?, what are the other parents desiring to teach their
littles?....and never ever point a stick, sword, gun in someone's face if they
haven't agreed to that kind of play!

Then go back to the roots: why do kids love power plays? why do we have a
disconnect in our society? Would you rather have your boys (many), girls (some)
playing "battle it out" video games (or any other kind - ones that create
scenarios of win-loose, better than others, amassing booty etc.) by the time
they are 9? or hand crafting bow and arrows themselves, harnessing chi, or still
enjoying a good fantasy romp with their mum(s) or dad(s) in which they can
dabble in the warrior spirit, ideas of darkness, death, mastery, courage,
self-sacrifice, and the powers of nature...?

Channeling into sports, other forms of competetiveness, does not help them, in
my humble opinion , come to a deeper understanding of their urges, their
subconscious, their rationalizing of what society shows, their need for morals,
codes...bla, bla, bla.....

I would want them to play out all their urges, and socialize, meaning, come
slowly to realize that there's nothing we do that doesn't somewhere impact our
environment, the people, animals and plants.

Happy last day of bike to work week. With all that passion to fight, know,
learn, belong, be accepted that our children are showing us, let's all remember
how important it is to model compassion and gentleness to others, humans, all
life forms, and the planet.

That's my super rant!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

How do you decide if a movie is appropriate for your child to watch?

I'm really just asking questions here, would love comments!

Are you concerned about violence, gore, sexual or sensual images, depictions of female and male role models, language, the blur between fantasy and reality, surreal images...?

Have your children seen any films that have affected them negatively?

What parental guidance websites do you use?

How important do you think it is that your child is developmentally capable of understanding and processing, not only the images, sounds etc, but the chore message of the film?

Do you discuss this with him / her?

How old is/are your children?

Would you take her / him / them to see:  The Fantastic Mr. Fox?  Alice In Wonderland?  Avatar?

Why / why not?

My son's (5.5) dad and I seem to have very different ideas about what and how much media is appropriate for our son.  I am struggling to come to terms with this, and help my son digest these three films he has seen with  his dad.  I would really appreciate any comments and recommendations on the above.

Thank you,

Sunday, May 30, 2010

TV, Scool, and Natural Feedback Circuits

Gatto writes in his Chapter, The Camino de Santiago, on p. 91 of Weapons of Mass Education:

Let me confess from the start I'm on the board of advisors of an organization called TV-Free America.  As a school teacher I found that the kids who drove me crazy were always big TV watchers.  Their behaviour profile wasn't pretty.  TV addicted kids were irresponsible, childish, dishonest, malicious to one another; above all else they seemed to lack any sustaining purpose of their own, as if by consuming too many made-up stories, modeling themselves after too many men and women who were pretending to be somebody else, listening to too many talking hamburgers and too many explanations of the way things are (sponsored by oil companies and dairy councils) they had lost the power to behave with integrity - to grow up.
     It was almost as if my stealing time children needed to write their own stories, television - like school itself - had dwarfed their spirits.  When computers came along, I saw they often made the problem worse.  Potentially, they were a better deal, because of the capacity to offer interactivity, but a majority of users I saw wallowed in porno, games spent playing against programs, not other people, and many spectator pursuits which required only consumption, not actively committed behavior.
     Even with the internet I saw how easy it was to cross the line into a passive state unless good disciplin was exercised, and I knew from experience how hard that was ot come by."

After realizing that preaching about TV's negative effects to kids wouldn't work,  Gatto writes, " Relief would have to come from a different quarter; if these things were truly as bad as I believed, if they diminished the intellect and corrupted the character as I felt, a solution would have to be found in the natural proclivity of the young to move around physically, not sit, before we suppress that urge with confinement to seats in school and with commercial blandishments to watch performers rather than to perform oneself.
     The master mechanism at work to cause harm was a suppression of natural feedback circuits which allow us to learn from our mistakes.  Somebody trying to learn to sail alone in a small boat will inevitably tack too far left and too far right when sailing into the wind, when the destination is straight ahead, but practice will correct that beginner's error because feedback will instruct the sailor's reaction and judgment.  In the area of mastering speech, with all its complex rhythms of syntax, and myriad notes and tones of diction, the most crucial variable is time spent in practice.  And in both instances the more challenging the situation, the quicker that competence is reached"
     "The absolute necessity for feedback from everywhere in taking an education (even from one's enemies) forced me to look closely at how rigidly students were ordered about - in a way which made little use of their innate ability to grow through feedback.  My guess was that by restoring this natural biological circuitry, the hideous displays of media-sickened behavior among my students would decline.  And the guess proved right."

Gatto goes on to describe some of his Guerrilla Curriculum, for example, sending them out on expeditions, where they could be face to face with reality, challenged by the nerve-wracking and exhilarating waters of real life... READ IT!

The bottom line is that most TV and most schooling encourages passivity, and in it's pre-packaged, factory style production of consumers of disconnected knowledge bits and stuff to buy, limits our natural born abilities to use feedback, learn from experience, self-correct, and enjoy challenging ourselves. 

Yep, Yep, Yep!

Screen Time and D's Review of Learning Web Sites

Ah, to reduce screen time or not, that is the question!

I recently had the wonderful privilege (thanks C.!) of attending Gordon Neufeld's latest conference in Vancouver.  This year's theme was Rest, Play, Grow.  One among hundreds of useful notions I brought home from this superb event, was the questioning of our use of screen time: in front of the computer or TV. 

Gordon believes that true growth (developmental) and learning only truly occur when children are at rest and filled up with love (unconditional acceptance, with all their needs met double!).  Yet, he bemoans, we make them work all the time, work for our love, work for attention, work to compete in and manage peer social situations, work for grades, rewards and approval, work for outcomes, rather than truly be at peace, secure in love and safety, and at rest, so that their minds can truly process, play with and come to understand their world and the part they play in it.  Gordon recommends that children need several hours a day of free play, alone play, a safe resting time, with no screen time.

What role does screen time play in your household?

In ours, I've tried to keep it minimal.  I believe our son watches a fair amount of TV shows and movies at his dad's.  Plus, he's a pretty over-scheduled little dude.  What with living in a joint custody arrangement, switching homes every other day during the work week, and alternating weekends, as well as having to transition between 2.5 mornings of pre-school, to the socializing with our home daycare kids, and then if he's lucky a few evenings a week of down time.  Now his dad has him enrolled in three evenings a week of extra-curricular classes, and one Saturday morning!  So with this in mind, I try to limit screen time if only to provide that wonderfully free-flow creative place that occurs when he's left to his own thoughts and devices.

We watch one movie every one to two weeks, either fiction or nature / science.  I may put on a short video during the day, if no naps occur, extremely infrequently, to get a "break" for myself.  Finally over the last two years, my son has experimented with three "learning" websites on line.  Which he pretty much self regulates now, using one perhaps once a month.  Many have claimed that reading websites have helped their children a lot.  I think that if Daniel spent more time with them, this might be the case for him.  So far, their influence has been hard to see, one small element in the wonderful variety of learning opportunities that my son experiences all the time.

Poisson Rouge is definitely worth checking out, with no advertising, or character /  brand recognition, pleasant sound effects, and an endless assortment of different types of games, learning tools, experiences with site, sound, shape, movement etc., this very simple site can be entertaining, introduce all kinds of concepts to a child, and give them practice in navigating on the computer, using a mouse to click, drag etc. and encouraging a little early "internet ethics".  The site starts on one page, designed as a play room, and by clicking on each toy or play thing, you are taken to different pages, each with another array of things to click on.  In other words, in order to find your way around, one must always go back.  Some beautiful simple ideas here.


Many have recommended Star Fall, and I do too, with it's phonetics, games, read longs and early readers, there's and endless supply of levels, and approaches, which, after two years, my son has still not exhausted.  At first he was not at all interested in the simple phonetics exercises, but now, after gaining more real time knowledge of sounds, sight words and the power of reading / writing, I notice he's going back to these exercises as if to consolidate what he already knows.  Star Fall introduced my son to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, which fascinated him for ages.  He asked if he could watch the ballet, and this opened all kinds of other doors!  Also his interest in Greek Myths was peaked by their over-simplified version of Theseus and The Minator.  Now, he is well versed in the discussion of different versions of stories: comparative lit!!!


We encountered Brainpop and did the trial - I believe it's the first two levels you get for free, and then you have to pay.  Another, largely phonetically based reading site, I like the fact that it introduces whole sounds right away:  'ee' for example.  It has funky animation with aliens etc., and cool sound effects, but relies mostly on rote learning, and that infuriating trick of making kids feel like they are interacting with the computer, like Dora shows: "Say, "ee"!___________Good that's right!"  Yeeechhh!


I love my son's review of the two. "I like Brain Pop because I think the animation, sound effects and ideas are cool, but it's totally directed by the computer, you have to do what they tell you, and have no choices.  I prefer Star Fall because it's open ended, you can start or quit any activity, say whether you liked it or not, choose what kind of reading / learning you want to do, and choose any level you want.  That way is definitely better for learning.

Oh, boy, I have to tear myself away from the SCREEN!  And do some real time work!!!!!
AAcchhh!  Chow for now.