discovery-based learning

project-based homeschooling: the choice

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The seasons have changed. Not due to a tilting of our continent away from the Sun, but due to more travels around it. It seems like just three weeks ago that I was pondering how to put together the best treasure baskets for baby Finny. Now, closing in on four-and-a-half rotations around the Sun, he's way beyond the treasure basket. Heck, the whole world is his treasure basket. 

Lately, I've found myself wondering how best to support this curious fellow as he opens his mind to the world-at-large in a more conscious, thoughtful way. Right now, we've decided that it's best for him not to follow a specific homeschooling curriculum, or to be in a public, Waldorf or Montessori school. (Best for us, too, because it really has to be a "what is best for the family" kind of decision.)

Public schooling can be a wonderful option for some families. So can private school. We do not take for granted how fortunate we are to have the choice between homeschooling and traditional schooling, as we can live off of one income. For the past few years, he has been attending a beautiful Waldorf-based home nursery a few mornings a week. I love it. They play outside. A lot. They care for animals. They bake. They celebrate many seasonal festivals. But the truth is that our days go much more smoothly, and the boys settle into their own projects and interests more easily, if we don't have to be out the door first thing in the morning. So, although we already informally homeschool the boys, we have made the decision to begin in earnest this winter, after baby girl is born.

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We have a long history, as a couple, with homeschooling. Patrick was homeschooled for a while. I grew up playing with my homeschooled neighbors. In some ways, it is comfortable territory. In some ways, as I began to look at the possibility of starting imminently down the homeschooling path, it seemed daunting and completely overwhelming.

We have a strong, all-inclusive (secular and religious) homeschooling community in the Durham/Chapel Hill area. I'm already plugged in, as one of my dearest friends is a seasoned homeschooling mom. My friend is extroverted and excels at orchestrating amazing lessons for her own kids as well as others (Engineering classes? Current events gatherings? Geography co-op? She's quite amazing.) Me? I'm a homebody and an introvert, and my strength isn't putting together lesson plans. Plus, I'm pretty laid-back when it comes to learning. I believe that it will happen naturally. However, I'm uncomfortable with zero structure, so full-bore unschooling isn't for us, either. I began to wonder where we fit on the homeschooling spectrum. Is there a place for me? For a family like ours?

I used to think that I needed to become comfortable with following a familiar learning philosophy (Montessori or Waldorf). To ease my load of lesson planning from scratch, I sought out curricula of different kinds, thinking that I needed to have something set for math, reading, history, science, etc. The search for curricula to guide us down the homeschooling path started to become a case of too-much-information (and, when faced with paying for said curricula year after year, it started to look less economical.)

Then Finn developed a very deep and wide passion for geology, evolution and dinosaur fossils. And, eureka! I slapped my forehead, dusted off my Montessori training and followed the needs and interests of my own child, learning through a good deal of trial and error how to best mentor him as I guide him on his path of becoming a life-long learner.  As an enthusiastic autodidact who happens to be married to another one (who is currently spending his evening leisure time studying number theory and cryptography) this path makes so much sense for our family. We love our projects. We consider learning to be fun. Yes, even math. Especially math.

So it's not surprising that we've been drawn to project-based homeschooling. It fits us well. Patrick and I are currently enrolled in a PBH Master Class with Lori Pickert of Camp Creek Blog. I could go into a whole bunch of educational and spiritual philosophy as to why I love this learning path, for children and adults alike. But that's another post. For now, I feel excited to begin. I'm very much a novice who will be learning as much as my own kids, no doubt. 

What will our days look like? They will likely start out with some kind of circle - some singing or movement thanks to Lavender's Blue, followed by an entire morning of project time. We'll see how it all evolves. 

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A few inspirational project-based homeschooling resources:

The Simple Mom Podcast "Reasons to Homeschool" in which Tsh and Jamie share their different approaches to homeschooling. Tsh's family is into classical education a la "The Well-Trained Mind," while Jamie's family espouses a more project-based approach. 

David Albert - It's always good to search out well-seasoned homeschooling mentors, not just others with children the age of your own or perhaps a few years ahead of yours. 

The book "Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners". Obviously.

Project-Based Homeschooling, the blog. A wealth of information, motivation, and practical advice. 


imagine childhood book review + giveaway

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That book up there? It's amazing. Of course, I knew it would be - I've been a loyal visitor the Imagine Childhood blog and a supporter of their store for many years now.

What author Sarah Olmsted has crafted is a deep, relaxing breath in the form of a book . It's an invitation to experience the wonder of nature in a creative way. An invitation to notice. An invitation to experience a forest, a creek, a pond - through the eyes of a child and alongside your child.

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The activities in Imagine Childhood, I would say, are geared toward families with young children or older children who are able to read and craft on their own. None require a developed skill set - the sewing projects are very simple, the woodworking projects extremely basic - so anyone can jump right in. Everything can be made with little and big hands working side by side.

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The boys eagerly chose to work on the mud house project, and it was a delight to work alongside them. I cut the wood forms and they did most everything else - from oiling down the sides of the wood (even the oustide of the form - unneccesary for the house, but somehow perfect work for Finn, as you can see above.) Finn made design decisions (such as choosing to hammer a door frame together rather than using a bigger block. I just followed their lead. Come to think of it, Imagine Childhood and my other favorite, Project-Based Homeschooling, are perfect companion books.

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Lachlan really got into the mud part after his nap. (Do you see him nearly falling over in one of the above pictures, unable to give in to sleep with the excitement of the mud house construction?) Hold on - I have to go give him a smooch this minute - ok, I'm back!

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And here is our mud house thus far, still drying. Come to think of it, it had a very generous watering in the last few days, first by eager boys who love to go around watering this and that, then by nature herself, in the form of a rainy day. I'm not sure if it will ever dry properly without splitting, but the experience itself was quite worthwhile regardless. There is a town of mud houses being planned, as well as many other projects from Imagine Childhood.

Building this with the boys made me remember one of my first blog posts, back when I was living in rural Mexico and building a cob wall to protect our garden. It wasn't surprising that building with mud attracted the neighborhood children; there's something so simple, functional, and rewarding about it.

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Cob wall

Roost Books has generously offered to give away two copies of Imagine Childhood to my readers, and Sarah has chipped in a $25 gift certificate to the Imagine Childhood Shop. Three opportunities to win! Leave a comment to enter. I'll pick a winner on Saturday, December 1st.

Good luck!


Comments are now closed - congratulations to Gwenn, Joy and Milena!


giving thanks

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Inspired by the fat brush strokes in Giving Thanks, Finn sat down at his desk and started to work with a selection of brushes and paints. We chit chatted about colors, lines, and curves, then I walked away. An hour later, he presented his interpretation. Then he flashed that "I'm three so I never smile in a normal way when asked" smile. 

I'm awash with gratitude for all the little things this year. If I had known that this is the way it was going to turn out two years ago at this time, I would have saved myself those truck loads of worry. I'm still pretty amazed that I get to spend my days with two healthy and vibrant little boys.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, friends! I'll be back here in a week.


Friendship

Hi, I'm Charlotte and I'm guest blogging in this space for Meg while she prepares for Quilt Market this month.  I feel honored to be writing here on this very page where our special friendship began.  I started reading Meg's blog before Finn was even born and sometime during his early months I realized that Meg and I lived in the same town, with boys just a few months apart.  So I wrote to her, and it felt something like writing to Punky Brewster when I was seven years old, only instead of a junky fan club postcard and Punky headshot, I got a playdate with Meg, the crafting and parenting rockstar. (Guess what?  Despite being starstruck in the beginning, she's just like you and me!) We found some common ground.  We got to know one another.  Then we got pregnant at the same time again, this time with Lachlan and my little girl, Kenzie.  We rode that rollercoaster together, and our bond strengthened.

Meg is one of my best friends, and when I thought of what I could say during my time in this space, I kept coming back to Meg herself.  I hope to share the things I love about Meg with you, and give you a more intimate look at the woman behind the blog.

This week we headed to our favorite river spot together, me with my four kids and Meg with her two. We hope to make this a weekly adventure through the seasons and this week's visit didn't disappoint, with clouds and rain and sun all in the same visit!  The rain didn't dampen our spirits and even made the views more beautiful.

I suppose to an untrained eye, nothing remarkable was happening.  Kids played.  Kids got wet.  Boots got muddy.  Insects and snails were captured.  There were smiles (a lot) and tears (a few) and lots and lots of snacks for our busy adventurers.

It is easy to get caught up in the daily grind.  We could spend that extra half hour cleaning house or doing one more work task or simply  choose to stay inside on a slightly damp day to avoid the mess and fuss.  But we wouldn't want that, now would we, Lachlan?

No.  Because the outdoors has lessons to teach us.  My own over-active brain slows down and breathes deeply.  Questions bubble forth from my older ones with regularity - do trees have DNA?  How do the leaves in the river affect the ecosystem?  Did the rocks erode from rain or from the river when it was higher?  They relax and open themselves fully to the experience, with creativity and problem solving blending into one seamless experience.  And Kenzie?  Well, she's been hesitant around steps lately.  My house has six sets of steps inside (yes, six!  they vary from 1-3 steps all the way to a full flight) and she was refusing to go up or down them, protesting to be helped each time, even transitioning from room to room.  But outside?

Despite their size and irregularity, she conquered that fear.  Thank you, nature!  And thank you, Meg, for bringing this city-girl out into the wild every week and reminding me that we have so much to learn just by being present.


where we're going

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We never know where we will end up when we start along a path, do we?

Things evolve organically. Our family is changing, and we're taking a turn in a different direction. 

Patrick took a leave of absence from his PhD program in history to take a computer programing job. He would like to finish his dissertation one day, if he can do so while working full-time as a programmer. (A high five for my brilliant and hard-working husband who is both a humanities guy and a mathy, programming guy. How often do those two talents get put into one (darn cute) package? :) 

He will start work soon. We will get a regular paycheck, which is a huge stress relief for us. We were working way too hard to get Sew Liberated to make up for Patrick's grad school stipend which was about to run dry, and it just wasn't happening. It's a good source of supplemental income. It's not enough for a family of four with hefty medical bills. We're tired of money stress. We needed to do something about it.

You know, part of me cringes at the mention of money. I have - as many of you have, too - embraced a movement toward simpler living. Less stuff, less technology. Focusing on time instead of income, living slowly instead of doing everything. Perhaps part of me wishes that I could fully jump on board and simplify our lives to the point where Patrick didn't need to work outside the home. Many families are able to do this, and I am grateful for their ingenuity and gentle influence. I'm moving toward a self-acceptance that we are not one of those families. But thankfully, I know now that we will be ok. We have health insurance. We will have enough money to replace our roof (which is a "green roof" by the happenstance of thirty years rather than ecological standards.) We will be able to buy plane tickets to visit my grandfather who can't travel anymore. We've had many sighs of relief around here.

Of course, Patrick's job precipitates a huge shift for both of us. Since Finn's birth, we have been co-parenting full-time - he worked half the day, and I worked half the day, and we each took the boys when the other was working. Patrick will be leaving around 8:15 AM, and will return around 5:30 PM. I will be with the boys all day, with the exception of three mornings a week when Finn is at his nature school and Lachlan is cared for by my parents. During those three mornings, I will work on the blog and Sew Liberated. It will be an exercise in letting go of the unnecessary, streamlining my productivity, and learning how to delegate. My parents will be gone for four weeks right before Quilt Market in Houston this October, which I am attending this year. I have four new patterns in the pipeline. It will be an interesting Autumn.

What I am both very excited about and very nervous about is orchestrating each day solo, from breakfast to dinner, with Finn and Lachlan. Right now I'm trying to get myself organized, so I know what kinds of fun activities we can do together while at home. I know many can fly by the seat of their pants, but I need to have a flexible plan. I also need to figure out how to recharge. As a borderline introvert, I need head space to myself. I'm contemplating daily quiet time for my non-napper, and looking into a yoga class on Sunday mornings. 

This is where I am - getting everything in line for the next turn in life. I'm full of optimism that with it will come new lessons, less stress, and a soon-to-be-found groove.


kids in the kitchen

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There's a new parenting/cookbook (my favorite combo!) on the block, and this is a must-have. Sara of Feeding the Soil and Kylie from How We Montessori have joined together to offer a primer on inviting young children into the kitchen. Kids in the Kitchen will provide you with all of the ideas and tools you'll need to make endless food prep into a memory-making, skill-building, family experience. 

Tell us a little about yourselves and why it is you're passionate about Montessori education. 
 
From Sara:

Whenever I read the news about another mass shooting or more death in Syria or corporate greed or climate change, I feel an overwhelming need to turn my attention and focus toward hope. For me, that hope is our children. Maria Montessori said, "If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men [and women]."

The Montessori approach to education and parenting helps children become confident, loving, compassionate, and responsible for the well-being of themselves, others, and the world around them. It is a truly transformational approach that has the potential to change the world. 

I first experienced Montessori as a child and later as a teacher and parent. I am currently working to create more public Montessori schools in diverse communities nationwide as the founder and executive director of Montessori For All

Kylie found Montessori when she was searching for a parenting philosophy that resonated with her and her family's needs. She was immediately attracted to Montessori's emphasis on "fostering independence, following the child, order and consistency." She currently spends much of her time writing and communicating with parents around the world via her blog, How We Montessori.

We came together to create the cookbook we couldn't find in bookstores. It explains all the benefits of cooking with children (as young as 18 months), details step-by-step directions for setting up the kitchen in a kid-friendly way, includes a sequence of skills to prepare children for cooking, and features ten simple recipes that are illustrated with photographs so even pre-readers can follow along with confidence and independence. 

The simple act of allowing children to cook helps them develop a core of confidence that is so instrumental to their formation of self. 

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The cookbook is a very accessible, visually appealing primer on getting your young child into the kitchen. Could you share with us your own family kitchen routines? What does a typical day in your kitchen look like - busy? Peaceful? Chaotic? Fun? How does involving your children change the way you cook and the way you think about cooking? 

From Kylie: 
A typical day in our kitchen is all of those things--busy, peaceful, chaotic, and fun. Having children definitely changed the way I cook. More importantly, being a parent changed my entire life. I've learned to focus on the process not the outcome, to accept that things will not go as planned and to really live in the moment. I've learned that the key to living an active and engaged life with children is to look past the barriers and find ways to say yes. When things get a little crazy or out of control, I think about the wonderful memories we are making. Usually the the bigger the mess the louder the giggles.

My fifteen-month old has begun to pour his own milk at breakfast, he will help with snack and dehusk corn or shell peas at dinner. Most of all he likes to be by my side so he spends a lot of time in the kitchen exploring or sampling the food. My four year old loves baking and he loves experimenting. His favourite thing at the moment is making up his own flavor combinations and writing his own recipes.

No matter your child's age or personality, it is important to empower them. Give them the equipment and skills so they can work independently. Involve them in decision making as much as possible. Often they amaze us with what they are capable of.

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Because we all have different children, how do you bring out the best of their own personalities while working in the kitchen? One of us might have a vibrant firecracker of a child who joyfully generates the most fabulous messes, while another may have a detail-oriented, innately ordered child who is passionate about carrying out the ideas that she has in her head. 

From Kylie:
Not only are all children different but I've also found that children have different energy through the day. My best advice is to focus on the child and get to know your child in the kitchen. A little preparation can help. For a child who likes to work fast, have everything ready to go, ingredients out and measured. Other children might enjoy the process of collecting all the ingredients and measuring. It helps to have basic ingredients in the pantry and the basic tools for cleaning up ready. Flexibility is also important. Cakes can be turned into muffins, water can make up for too much flour, dinner can be late. It all works out!


Tell us about your non-profit organization, Montessori for All. All profits from cookbook sales go directly to benefit this great organization.

In the United States, there are more than 4,000 private Montessori schools and only about 400 public ones. Montessori For All seeks to change that. We believe that all children deserve access to an educational experience that develops their minds, hearts, and bodies. We believe that children's educational options should not be limited by their families' incomes. We seek to open and lead high-performing, authentic, dual-language, public Montessori schools in diverse communities across the nation. We are currently working to open our flagship school in Austin, TX, in the fall of 2014. 

 

Thank you, Sara and Kylie, for putting so much of yourselves into Kids in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes That Build Independence and Confidence the Montessori Way . I know it will be a fabulous, go-to book for families with young children!


fun was had

the fun we have

Before I left for Denver, I found myself with a bit of senior-itis when it came to my sewing course. You know, I had to pack, attend to small details, etc., but all I could do when I sat down in front of the computer was search for sensorial play ideas for the boys. 

And oh, my. The 'nets are chock-full of fantastic "activities," as we call them in our house. 

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First up is shaving cream and ice paint from Growing a Jeweled Rose. Total hit. 

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Lachlan had the idea of covering his hair in shaving cream. Finn and his friend thought this was the greatest idea ever. Somehow, we avoided shaving cream in the eyes, which was fortunate. 

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What I like about Growing a Jeweled Rose is that Crystal has so many innovative ideas of her own, but she aslo posts thematic round-ups from around the web, which is very helpful for planning activities for children of different ages and interests. 

the fun we have

She does not shy away from messy play, and has great ideas for containing it in a bath. She calls them sensory baths

This was our first time trying a "special bath," as Finn now calls them. Both boys were awestruck with the glow bath I put together for them. 

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

I'm pretty sure if Lachlan's cardiologist saw this picture, he would be concerned! Black light + camera at work. Speaking of Lachlan's heart, I forgot to mention that, at his last quarterly check-up, he was looking so great that his cardiologist gave him a six-month pass! No hospital for six months! Way to go, Lachlan. His heart function is excellent.

I hope you all have a great weekend, and that you have the time to do something crazy fun. We are heading back to the beach (can't stay away!) for an impromptu, two-night camping trip to celebrate Patrick's birthday. 

Happy weekending, friends!


glitter soup

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

There comes a moment in the day when the energy slows.  A warm, cut-grass-sticking-to-your-feet moment, when you are without a thing to do other than lay around with a popsicle. In this moment, Finn and Lachlan could either melt or seize the day. It was time to get out the water play.

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

I just gathered some things I had around the house, including glitter, liquid watercolors, and ground turmeric, and filled the tub. I lounged next to the cat, hands behind my head, while they played in peace for over an hour. I could have fallen asleep were it not for the passing thought that a cup-full of green glitter soup could be poured over my head.

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

the fun we have

Oh, it was good. They're making soup again as I write these words. 

I will miss these little boys as I jet off to Denver for several days of filming starting tomorrow. I've never "left" before. Finn has traveled for a few days with his Dad, leaving me at home with Lachlan, but I've never NOT put a little boy to sleep in the last more-than-three years. Sigh. I already can't wait to be home! I'll let you know how it goes, from the filming to the uninterrupted nights of sleep!

Be well, friends.


sparkle love

alabama toast

alabama toast

alabama toast

Making Alabama Toast

"Let's listen to a Parkle Tory!" 

Other than "I'm hungry," Finn's linguistically idiosyncratic way of asking for a Sparkle Story is one of the most common requests from his mouth. 

Our family loves the three story lines that we've been subscribing to for the past four months: Martin and Sylvia, Martin and Sylvia At Home, and Junkyard Tales. The stories are so down-to-earth, yet so rich in content, and always wholesome and entertaining. 

Martin and Sylvia are a five and seven year-old sibling pair whose seemingly mundane adventures reflect the experiences of many young ones. They are not charicatures; each child has difficulties to overcome, lessons to learn, and charming personality quirks. Martin and Sylvia's parents, however, are a rockstar team - and I really appreciate this! I can't tell you how many times we have used a parenting trick of theirs in a not-so-easy situation. Finn recognizes these tricks, too, and usually cheerfully says, "Oh! Just like Martin and Sylvia!" Score. 

We listen to the stories in the car and at home - often while preparing a meal or doing an art project. Sometimes, Finn will request to listen to a story while curled up in a window seat, watching the birds at the feeder. Perfect for a bit of quiet time. I love thinking about how his imagination is working to construct the characters and set. What a fantastic mental exercise - like reading Harry Potter before the movies came out, you know?

Do you have Sparkle Stories? Any other favorite audio books? 


starting on the homeschooling journey

homeschooling and games

homeschooling and games

That, my friends, is Finn's first legible letter. With all the hoopla and busyness that occurs every day at our writing center, his interest in all things letters and words has blossomed into a passion. It's time.

Time for me to start doing a little bit of planning, time for me to organize all of the learning materials that I collected while teaching 3-6 year old in that one-room Montessori schoolhouse in Mexico, time for a little daily activity - playful-yet-planned - to guide him down the path to literacy.

A year or so ago, I wasn't so sure that I would take proactive steps to help him to read. I very much believe that learning must come from a place of joy, curiosity, and intrinsic motivation. At two-and-a-half, Finn showed no interest in letter games and such. I was fine with following his lead, even exploring a more Waldorf-ian, later reading pace with him. I still think that is a wonderful approach for many children.

But my boy is intense and passionate about most everything. He's into it, and I will follow his lead. The more I think about it, the more I know that using games and fun activities to teach phonics and sight words is the right approach for him. The more "unconscious" he can be about learning to read, in the same way that a young child absorbs his mother tongue without effort, the less frustration he'll have down the road.

Although I have my graduate degree in Montessori education, a whole slew of handwritten curricula "albums," as well as experience teaching in a classroom, teaching my own child is a different ballgame. I've found that most of the Montessori materials are far out of my budget range, plus I'm running a business so I don't have time to make all of the traditional Montessori materials by hand (although I do have a good number that I made back when I was teaching (and before I had my own babies!) Plus, learning at home (at least in my home) is much less formal than it would be in a classroom setting. 

I felt a little lost with where and how to begin. And I'm trained in this stuff! It was all just a bit overwhelming. Until, one fortuitous day, John of Montessori At Home contacted me about using one of my photos in the next edition of his e-book. Why yes, of course, and oh my - what is this book?! He sent me a copy and I breathed a sigh of relief. Here it is. For all of you wondering how the heck to implement Montessori in the home, either in a homeschool or as a supplement to classroom learning, this is a real jewel. It's packed with sequential learning activities, it's organized, and it's not overwhelming. John, a former teacher and administrator himself, tells it to you straight. The activities are home-centered, the materials are easy to find, and he lets you know what you don't need to buy, as well as what materias are truly useful in a home setting.

Unlike How To Raise An Amazing Child the Montessori Way, which is a great introduction to Montessori for parents of young children, Montessori At Home is an organized curriculum for the 2-6 year-old.

Speaking of other Montessori parenting books, did you notice that two of my boys are on the cover of Learning Together: What Montessori Can Offer Your Family? As far as I can tell, it's only available in the UK, and I don't yet have my hands on a copy. A few more of my photos are used inside the book as well. How fun! Check out this review at How We Montessori.

Learningtogether

Photo by How We Montessori

 

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