With Remembrance Day this Wednesday, I’d like to recommend a book for any parents out there looking for a story to give a bit of context to a soldier’s experience in a way a child can understand. Continue reading
Well, it’s mid-September, which means we unschooly types are starting to trickle back into what we think of as our school/unschool year. Of course I’m not technically unschooling as Neko is in a blended program, and also given that we do some schooly stuff most days, but we still fit the personality profile (you know — sleeping in, avoiding bookwork, having not the most academic goals in general).
Neko started back to her blended program last week and we had our facilitator meeting last Monday, so it seemed like a good week for us to start back at our homeschooling as well. We’ve been doing a tiny bit of review since late August but we have mostly been lazy and sleepy.
I have, however, been thinking a lot about what I’d like to focus on this year. The major factors in this planning have been the fact that we are putting Neko into a public arts school next year, so I need to make sure she is up to speed on her core subjects; and also that I want to make sure I’ve done as much as I can during my intensive time with her to instill the core values that matter to us as a family: gratitude, service, self-sufficiency, appreciation of art and connection to nature, specifically. Continue reading
As suggested by The Paleo Mama in her post, 72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life, I started reading Walden on Day 9. I already owned it as I’ve meant to read it forever. Henry David Thoreau seems to be my kindred spirit – I would love to live in a cabin in the woods for two years. Growing up, I always said I’d like to grow up to be a hermit in the mountains. Of course as I grew older I realized that I’m a study in contrasts – while I would still love to live as a hermit, the options are a) hermit deep in the country or b) living in the action in the city. Suburbs, small towns, acreages on the edge of the city, not so much my thing. So the city wins, but if it were just me all on my own, I’d probably be hunkered down in the woods. For at least part of the year.
It remains to be seen what Walden will teach me about simplifying my life, and chances are it’ll take me a while to read this, but in the meantime I’ll enjoy ruminating on what Thoreau has to say.
On Day 10, I took another suggestion from the previously quoted Perrie Samotin on Stylecaster and planned a week’s worth of outfits according to the forecast.
This worked well in that it took any planning time out of my outfits, and out of packing for a night away at Justan’s mom’s place, however I’m not convinced yet that this outfit planning is helping me any. I think this is mainly because at least 3-4 days of my week are spent mostly at home. I rarely have to rush out of the house in the morning. Therefore, I’m taking up precious nighttime minutes when I generally watch funny shows, write, have a bath or do yoga, with outfit planning. Alternatively, I could be spending five minutes in my unhurried morning, when I don’t feel like doing those things, or can’t justify them, picking out my clothes. I have a feeling the more general, big-picture tips I’ve seen on Pinterest about purging and simplifying your wardrobe to make your favourite outfits more obvious and accessible are more helpful to someone in my situation.
Also, I’m sometimes known to spend a couple days at a time in yoga pants and a tank top. So there’s that.
Tomorrow I’ll try setting a timer for my work tasks. I like the looks of this tip – I think it will help me stay focused on each task and ultimately get things done more efficiently!
Find the Pinterest board with all these tips and more here.
Once upon a time, I was the mother of a four-year-old child who showed pretty much zero interest in learning to read. My brain, as it is wont to do, split into two opposing camps. Camp one was freaking out perpetually that I ought to be doing more, that this was my first big chance to FAIL as a homeschooler, that this crazy experiment called unschooling wouldn’t work at all. Camp two, meanwhile, was resting easy in countless studies and articles that reassured me of the importance of pre-literacy skills and the benefit of letting kids learn to read on their own time and those Scandinavians who don’t teach academics until age seven. Camp two was also trying to believe the librarians who assured me that Neko was right on track with her pre-literacy to be a strong reader, and believing whole-heartedly my unschooly friends who related that their child had not read until 6, 7, 8, even 9 and within a year was reading at or above grade level.
This is my brain on a daily basis, with all things. Yeah, I’m used to it, but it doesn’t stop the camps from debating.
So then, time passed. My mom, a kindergarten teacher, supportively lent us tons of little phonics readers, and I tried to get Neko to try them out. She staunchly resisted. I decided it wasn’t worth a fight.
When she was about five and a half, we signed up for Reading Eggs online. She used this sometimes, and it was a bit helpful.
But when it came down to it, she learned to read when she was ready, which turned out to be around six and a half to seven. What did we do? We provided her with tools and resources – Reading Eggs, lots of books, reading aloud to her daily, several trips to the library each week, watching Electric Company, and letting her see us read. We never did sit down and “teach” her, and I did my best to quiet the voice in my head that was freaking out about her learning to read later than some other kids. I also did my best to reassure my mother and father, who would sometimes comment that children younger than Neko, in my mom’s kindergarten class, were further ahead in their reading.
Of course, it helped to read on Facebook about the kindergarten and grade one homework my friends’ kids were being sent home with. I never wanted reading to be a chore, so it was reassuring to know that we were avoiding setting up that dynamic.
If you’ve read this far and you happen to be able to closely identify with the me-of-the-past I’m describing, specifically because you have a preschooler or primary kid who is “late” learning to read – here’s the whole point. Let me tell you about where we are today, at 8.
Neko ended up really taking an interest in reading when she was almost 7. At that point we started to do a bit of work at home, such as BrainQuest workbook activities, more Reading Eggs, and writing projects – journals, stories, letters (though not much. Really – not much at all.). She was interested in learning to read, so we didn’t find working on it to be a chore. Still, we spent very little time working on reading with her. We mostly answered questions as she posed them and continued to make resources and tools available.
When she started at the blended homeschool program in the fall of 2013, a young member of the grade three class, she was reading at grade level. That’s nine months of reading to catch up on two school years of instruction. Now, halfway through grade three? She’s been named one of the more advanced readers in her class and given a part in the radio play that has tons of lines. She’s also reading Wildwood, which is labelled as an age 8-12 reading level but is, I have to agree with this writer, far above that. At any rate, I’m proud of my kid who has the perseverance to keep picking up this 541-page hardcover and getting through it two pages at a time. And then coming to tell us about plot developments – yay reading comprehension!
So take heart. Try not to worry. And keep the end goal in sight. Do you want to boast that your pre-schooler can read*? Or is it more important to you to raise an adult who loves reading and does it well?
(*Please note: yes, I know there are plenty of pre-schoolers who learn how to read of their own accord, and love it. Just don’t sweat it if your kid is not one of them.)
When I wrote “Alphabetization” on Neko’s Learning Plan, I found myself amiss under the heading of “Resources.” Ummmm… I don’t know. How does one teach alphabetization? She’s not a Virgo, like me, compelled to organize all her books by either alphabetization or colour. And I’m not about to have her sit down and do worksheets on alphabetization.
But only a week later, Neko has announced that she’d like to do a research project. She didn’t use those words, of course, but there it was. She wanted to learn all about the rainforest, and write about it. Great!
So, we pulled out some reference books from her shelves, and she asked how she was going to find rainforests in any of them. “Well,” I responded, “You use the index.”
Bingo! As if sent by the Universe, here was my first lesson in alphabetization! I showed her how to use the index and explained how the entries are alphabetized. For the rest of this research project she has embarked on, she’ll have to practice this new skill.
I love how sometimes, the answers just come to you.
(For the record, I mostly just left that part of the learning plan blank… trusting that we’d figure it out. 😉 )
This week, one of Neko’s favourite games has been Compound Words. We’ve been having a lot of fun playing it in the car. I don’t remember how it started – for some reason, I explained to her what a compound word is, and before you knew it, she was brainstorming compound words. We chucked around compound words for days! Some were confusing – they seemed like compound words, but were actually two words. Some were only one word, but didn’t actually contain two words within. Others, I was unsure of and had to look up. It was actually fun to see how many we could come up with, and we congratulated each other regularly on our brainstorming. Compound words – check!
Neko also had a really good time with a worksheet on regrouping numbers in subtraction – what you do when you try to subtract 18 from 23, for instance (steal a one from the 20 place, creating a 13 from which you can subtract the 8…). She was confused at first but soon she was really pleased with herself and did the whole page. Regrouping – check!
Harvesting Root Vegetables and Winter Keepers
We were lucky to attend a free harvest at a local CSA. Neko and some of her friends spent a couple of hours digging potatoes, pulling greens, plucking carrots, playing hide and seek in the dill, and more. They had more fun that we expected, and we came home with so many pounds of produce! We’ve been eating them all week. I consider this a very important part of her education – knowing where our food comes from, what grows here, how to store it, and how to prepare it.
At the library on Monday, I gave Neko an introduction to the dewey decimal system and the electronic catalog. I know she doesn’t get it yet, but she knows the basics of searching by subject, and a general idea of how to use the dewey decimal system to search for books on the topic she’s interested in. She’ll need help with it for a long time to come, but it’s nice to have introduced it!
And lastly, our other ongoing project is kitten care. We adopted an 8-week-old kitten named Olive from my parents’ ranch last week, and Neko has claimed her as her own. She is a very sweet little kitten, but of course keeps us busy. Neko has seen her vaccinated and has seen deworming medicine administered, she has been attempting to litter train her, she has fed and watered and snuggled her, and learned how sharp those claws and teeth are. She has also learned a lot about kitten proofing, and facilitating a friendly relationship between a kitten and an older, very grumpy male cat.
I wish this were an update, fully documenting what we’ve been up to, or how awesome homeschooling has been going (for the record – it has!). However, I’m just writing a quick post for now to update and say that this will be one of my primary forms of record-keeping for Neko’s Grade Three homeschooling year.
She has begun a blended program that is half public school, half unschooling – she will be in a school setting one day a week, with a second day every other week, and some Friday sport days and field trips as well. The rest of the time, she is unschooling as she has been so far.
While not a full update, I’m happy to report that her reading and writing are up to grade level, and I would say that her math is close (more importantly to me, she finds it fun and we don’t fight about it. She has no context for math as punishment nor difficulty. And that is my longterm goal.). Science and social studies are not a concern, as they never have been. Phys ed, music, art and all the rest are going great (how could they not be? So fun!!).
Our learning plan for the year is complete, though I freely admit that I’m not beholden to even my own plans, and these are nothing but loose goals. That said, we’re aiming for the following this year:
Math: units of measure, charts and graphs, describing quantities to 1000 using different methods, multiply to 5×5, beginning division concepts
Language arts: proper spelling (moving away from just phonics), learning to access reference materials (dictionaries, encyclopedias), punctuation, capitalization, alphabetical order, story-telling (describing characters and setting), using electronic library catalog, typing skills
Science: build and test structures, describe and classify rocks and minerals, explore the nature of sound, plant growth and changes, waste and our world, magnets
Social studies: nothing specific aside from Hawaiian culture (we’re going to Maui this winter) – we generally wing it with social studies.
Physical education: improving swimming skills, winter sports – downhill skiing or snowboarding, gymnastics, hiking
Fine arts: guitar basics, appreciate different styles and media in visual art, experience the performing arts, create art using different media and techniques, understand and appreciate rhythm, explore a variety of folk dances
We’ll be tracking Neko’s progress through this blog, her personal student journal, a portfolio, and of course parental observation and even the odd worksheet.
Sometimes I worry about unschooling (I know… all us unschoolers do!). I worry that because we don’t do any (or at least not much) formal instruction, and no worksheets, and no sit-down time where I walk Neko through equations and participles and such things, that she might fall behind her peers. When she shows an interest in learning to read or write, or figuring out math, we follow that interest. We have a Reading Eggs subscription that she uses a couple of times a week, and there are tons of workbooks and math games and reading primers available within the house. We read together every day, and even loosely follow the Jolly Phonics program. The opportunities are there.
Of course, I know that at six and a half, I have no reason to worry. I have plenty of unschooling friends with older kids, who describe to me on a regular basis how things have gone in their house – one kid picked up reading easily at age four, the other didn’t find that it really “clicked” until about eight. No matter the age they’re describing, it’s always the same story – they didn’t push any of the academics, they let it happen on their child(ren)’s own timeline, and provided materials to meet the child’s interest as well as a stimulating environment, then one day the child took interest and BOOM!, in about two weeks they were reading proficiently.
I’ve also seen plenty of evidence that basic math is better off learned naturally rather than through rote learning.
So, the logical part of my brain knows we’re fine. I have complete faith in what we’re doing.
And yet, I have more friends that are sending their kids to school. Friends from the States whose children learned to read in preschool at age four. Whose five year olds can recite the 5o states (I can’t even do that! Not all of them!). Who post on Facebook wondering if anyone else’s child is having trouble with their grade one homework of reading one chapter per night. Neko’s not even reading Hop on Pop yet!
I think about our impending homeschool facilitator visit, and what I’m going to tell her. Our board is very unschooling-friendly. It’s why I chose them (for those of you in Calgary, we are with Home Learning Connections). Our facilitator is hands-off, unless I need her – then she is available. We’re left to do our own thing, which is what I want. The last time she came, I told her about our regular activities, and our philosophy on Neko learning reading and math when she’s ready, and our facilitator was very supportive. So it’s not that there is any worry of her actually saying, “But you’re finished Grade One and your child can’t read! FAIL!” Still, I have nagging doubts in my mind that question our path.
Then I remember… I look back at all the things we’ve done this year.
Days spent at my parents’ ranch.
Meetings to plan our little off-grid house.
Runs for fun (complete with setting up Neko’s own Daily Mile page).
Lots of neat crafts.
Sliding, fully clothed, down a handmade mudslide along the river bank. And on and on. And I realize that given our schedule, we wouldn’t have been able to do half of these things if we had been sitting at home doing worksheets.
I understand that some homeschoolers (lots of them, probably) have time to do both. I’m not saying that just because you’re doing worksheets, you’re not having fun. (I also understand that there are plenty of kids out there who enjoy worksheets and the like and do them by choice.)
But for us, given my work schedule (one full day and two half days each week, plus stints of working from home worked into each day), and us having two extra kids in the house another day and a half each week (when I would prefer to not attempt to make Neko sit down and focus on worksheets, though I suppose I could if I needed to), I really prefer to use our time, while she’s six years old, to slide down mudslides, tromp through the woods, watch old Lindsay Lohan Disney movies while eating pizza, watch silly YouTube videos, go on playdates, do cool crafts and play at the playground.
I picture myself when she is 10, or 12, or 20. This usually happens when I’m thinking back on Neko at age two or three and reminiscing about how cute and funny she was. She was also a total pain in the you-know-what and I am enjoying six so much more, but she was admittedly hilarious, and we had a lot of fun. I think a lot about how glad I am that we spent as much time together as we did, because we’ll never get to live that age together again. I’m thankful that I nursed her as long as I did; I’m thankful I didn’t need to go back to work full-time (well, really, I worked a TON of hours each week developing the store, but at least it was flexible and I still got to spend lots of time with her); I’m thankful that we went on dates and did silly things together.
I reflect on my favourite memories…
Taking a week to go camping on Summer Solstice when the rest of the kids were still in kindergarten
Having pancakes for supper in fancy dresses at a local pancake house when Justan was away for weeks and we just needed a break
Visiting a photo booth together; going for tons of playdates at our friends’ farm right outside the city; checking out new playgrounds with friends. And I realize that these will be some of Neko’s favourite memories, too.
That’s when I tell myself: It doesn’t matter that she can’t write a sentence yet, or count by twos. Like learning to walk, or talk, these are skills that will come. In the next year or two, most likely. If they don’t, then we’ll look at focusing a little more. But for the rest of our lives, we’ll have these memories to look back on. And then I feel really good about what we’re doing.
This post is the fourth in a series of eight concerning Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents. For the original post and summary, click here.
Tuesday is the day of Karma. The message for today is, “When you make a choice, you change the future.”
This, today, this is the day I’m struggling with. I believe in karma, and I understand it, mostly (well… as much as any regular person can). Not in the way that people flippantly refer to it, as if it’s instant and applies to things like spilling your milkshake after making fun of a friend, but in a much more holistic, long-term sense. But how on earth do you explain that to a child? I picture myself explaining it to Neko, and then her thinking that she’ll be rich if she’s nice to people, or assuming someone got sick because they weren’t a nice person. Throw reincarnation and karma over several lives in there and I’m stumped! I need it to be simple enough to explain to her, but not have her oversimplify it in selfish or harmful ways. Perhaps this will just come with time.
For now, we will focus on identifying how the choices we make change the future, and that when we do things that help bring happiness and success to others, that we ourselves are more likely to be happy and successful. We will use today as an opportunity to discuss how to know what is the right choice – listening to our intuition, and asking ourselves how our choice will affect ourselves and others, before deciding.
In the end, we didn’t talk very much about choices today. I’ll write this off as a day to prepare for future Tuesdays, and next week I’ll be sure to have a good conversation about it with Neko!
a) read books about karma – any suggestions? I thought of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as an example of book where people “get what they deserve” – that’s the best I’ve come up with. ETA: My friend Jen suggested the Grimm’s fairy tale Mother Holle. This got me thinking – many fairy tales have a rather karmic theme to them. Cinderella, for instance. I think Tuesday would be a good day for fairy tales and fables.
b) talk about good things that have happened to us
c) talk about our beliefs about karma
d) talk about situations that happened today and choices we made, and why we made the choices we did – Talk about how we feel about that choice. You could also write a story or make a book about these choices.
e) talk about listening to our intuition to help us make choices
f) Pick a situation in your life – what can you learn from it? Sometimes things happen to us because we can learn from them.
Book ideas: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Movie ideas: The Cat Returns, A Little Princess
This post is the third in a series of eight concerning Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents. For the original post and summary, click here.
Monday is a day of giving. The message for today is, “If you want to get something, give it.”
First thing Monday morning, Neko and I had a conversation about this. “If you want others to share, or be nice to you, a good thing to do is share and be nice to them,” I told her. An apt lesson, as she was headed to Mairead’s house for the day, and the two of them don’t have the most stellar record for sharing and getting along. In fact, they know exactly how to push one another’s buttons, and do so on a regular basis. Neko was taking an avocado pit (“dinosaur egg”) to their house and was plotting how she would keep it away from Mairead, so we talked about how if she expects Mairead to share her things, Neko should give Mairead a chance with the “dinosaur egg,” as a start.
We also planned, together, to give out lots of compliments during the day. At the end of the day, we would share with one another the compliments we had given.
In the future, we will also talk a lot about being grateful for the things we have, and how, by being grateful for what we have, it can seem like enough, and we can also have more of what we need come to us almost magically.
It was a really great day, and I definitely had lots to be thankful for. In the morning, before I left for work and to drop Neko off (Justan was working downtown today and took the bus), Neko and I did yoga, I fed the hens (and gave them some whey from our cheesemaking to drink), I made coffee and a double-egg and avocado sandwich, and we had time to spare. Neko had a great day at the bookstore and playing outside, and I was thankful to have an extra staff member to help me during my shift, and good friends who stopped by for hugs in celebration of Chinese New Year – and they brought me lunch, including Pocky and fortune cookies!
I have lots of ideas of things we could do on Mondays in the future…
a) compliment each other and strangers – but remember, it’s important that the compliments are sincere!
b) practice random acts of kindness – all sorts of fun possibilities here! I won’t list them, as there are tons of ideas out there, and I’m sure you can think of your own. Look, there’s a whole website about it!
c) free hug day – I have been wanting to do this with kids for some time. A conversation would need to happen beforehand about only hugging if you are comfortable with it and you and the other person consent, but I think it could be really awesome!
d) talk about the things you’re thankful for at dinner – this is a really simple tradition that can, of course, be incorporated at dinner every day.
e) make a gift – whether there is a birthday or gift-giving holiday coming up or not, this is a great day to think of people you know who might like a gift, or to whom you’d like to give a gift. There are lots of amazing ideas for easy, handmade gifts on Pinterest!
f) send a love letter – for kids who can write (or younger ones who can dictate to an adult), writing a love letter to a best friend, grandparent or anyone else they love is a great exercise in expressing feelings and gratitude. While you’re at it, write one out yourself – maybe even to yourself! Or perhaps a spouse or parent hasn’t been told lately just how much they mean to you. Who benefits more in this exercise – the sender or the receiver?
g) hold the door for people – going out today? Take the opportunity to hold the door for anyone you can.
h) write a story about something you’re thankful for – when I was a kid, I loved making books; and now Neko does too. Take some regular, white, 8×10 paper and cut in half width-wise. Stack these new half-sheets together, fold in half and staple in the middle. Now fill with a lovely gratitude story, and be sure to include lots of drawings!
i) give each other back rubs – giving, and gratitude together! Plus – backrubs!
j) give to charity – this will have extra impact if your child or children choose the charity, and what to give. Something more palpable and less abstract than money, like toys, clothes, and so on, are easier for kids to understand.
k) talk about the Golden Rule – I remember learning this as a child: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you,” or “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” It is absolutely, number one, the best life rule I have ever learned, and it’s easy for kids to understand (especially once they develop empathy around age seven)!
l) have a mini Thanksgiving dinner – if you celebrate Thanksgiving, how about preparing something similar to what you would serve on that day, only on a smaller scale? This may bring more of a focus to the idea of giving thanks. Be sure to talk about all the things for which you have to be thankful as you eat!
m) take someone flowers – pick some flowers from your garden, or wildflowers (just be careful picking wildflowers! Choose something safe like dandelions or a flower that grows with abandon in your area, and not anything that is threatened or rare), or buy some locally grown flowers in-season from your local farmers market, and take them to a friend. A simple way to brighten someone’s day (including yours)!
I didn’t come up with many ideas for books or movies for today, but as always, I welcome more!
Book ideas: Ribbon Rescue (Robert Munsch), Socks for Supper (Jack Kent)
Movie ideas: One Magic Christmas