Saturday, December 15, 2007

Our week...

Monday. . . We were at the zoo bright and early. We attended a class about teeth and a class about how animals all work together to make up the ecosystem. We were quite impressed by the size of the elephant molar. In the ecosystem class ds1 (a snake) was majorly bummed out when all of the frogs died. He didn't need the instructor to explain the ramifications of a world without frogs. After the classes we had an amazing day enjoying the zoo. The temperature was in the mid 80s and the zoo was virtually deserted. We fed a giraffe, and dd giggled with delight while exclaiming, "He licked my hand!" When we arrived at the meercat exhibit, we pulled up some chairs and just sat and watched the cute little critters. When we arrived home, ds2 immediately set to work excavating the bones from the new dinosaur dig set he purchased at the gift shop. We read some library books and watched Animal Planet later that evening.

Tuesday. . . When I emerged from my cave (my room), ds2 was already fully engaged with Animal Planet. He and dd watched this for a couple of hours until ds1 came downstairs and changed the channel to Noggin. After lunch, the boys rode their bikes to the library. I followed behind with dd. She rode her tricycle all the way to the library - quite impressive. After reading our fill and filling two backpacks with books we headed home. Later that evening we headed back to the zoo to see the light display.

Wednesday. . . We had more digging of bones, more reading of books, some video game playing, and some room cleaning. Amazingly, I managed to unpack three more boxes. Ds1 attended his first art class at a local art studio, and he met some new kids that live close to our house. He described the painting technique he learned at "torture", but this was said with a gigantic grin. I played Lego Star Wars with ds2 while dd showed her daddy how to use her geometric solids and knobbed cylinders. Ds1 used this opportunity to play Heroes II - newly acquired from his grandfather's video game vault. Yes, our children have inherited a legacy of gaming - it's in their genes. We finished the evening with some videos we borrowed from the library.

Thursday. . . I finally made it to the social security office to order the new card I need in order to get a new driver's license. Here's one to think about: You need a drivers license to get a SS card, and you need a SS card to get a drivers license. How does that work? The high level of security made an impression on my children who were very somber the entire time we were in the office. Or maybe it was just that they knew our next errand would be a lot more fun. We headed to the mall to Build a Bear Workshop. The kids brought their animals so they could get accessories for them. They also picked up some codes for Build a Bearville so they can take their furry friends on line with them. Ds1 finished purchasing the gifts he wanted to get for his sister while we were at the mall. I turned him loose with $20 and he managed to find the perfect gifts and come back with change. We finished our evening with Surf's Up which had come that morning in the mail. I was pleased to discover the underlying message in the movie mirrored our educational philosophy. It is more important to enjoy what you are doing than it is to be the best. Often if you enjoy what you do, you just might end up being the best. However, by that point the intrinsic value of what you are doing far out ways the extrinsic value of the rewards you once thought you needed. This goes hand in hand with the fact that learning and achieving are very different concepts, and with children these two are almost always mutually exclusive.

Friday. . . Off to the state museum to learn about sound and light. We followed this with an afternoon at EdVenture where the kids enjoyed playing in Snowville. Although, I am somewhat concerned by the distorted view of snow the younger kids may developing. On the upside, ds1 now understands how they make it snow in the movies. Dd acquired yet another small percussion instrument from the gift shop. Ds2 reminded me about my promise to purchase the ice age excavation kit, and ds1 selected a three dimensional model/puzzle of the human heart. When we arrived home ds2 immediately prepared his ice age kit for the freezer. Ds1 has his heart assembled before we made it home. Ds2 was fascinated by the model. After learning that all mammals have a similar four chamber heart, he wanted to know how many chambers a fish heart has. A quick Google search later we learned the fish has the simplest heart of all vertebrates with only two chambers. Dd was thrilled to finally learn how to play a computer game - now she is hooked on Blue's Clues Arts and Crafts.

Saturday. . . Ds2 started his day by beginning the excavation of his ice age animals. Dd spent most of the day learning how to operate the computer. I thought ds1 handled himself wonderfully when ds2 was being rude to him. They were playing Lego Star Wars II, and ds2 made rude comments to ds1 because he wasn't performing the desire action. Ds1 simply dropped out of the game and walked away. If only we could all handle rude people this way.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Microscope Incident

We recently went through a minor crisis that I have come to think of as "The Microscope Incident". It started out innocently enough with ds2 wanting to learn how to use our new field microscope and ds1 wanting to share in this learning experience. It sounds like the recipe for a fun family learning experience, right? Well, it was. . . Just not the one I envisioned when I saw the microscope waiting on the living room table. And not necessarily fun.

It turns out that ds2 not only wanted to learn how to use the microscope, but he also wanted mommy time. So, here we are in the living room, and I am faced with an impossible decision. Do I honor ds2's desire to have me all to himself, or do I honor ds1's desire to learn how to use the microscope immediately? No matter which one I choose feelings will be hurt, and hurt feelings are never pretty.

I opt for a split second decision based on what I believe to be a logical (albeit speeding) train of thought. Ds2 had the microscope first, and in our family sharing is a choice. Therefore, ds2 does not have to share the microscope. Ds1 can wait. What ds1 heard when I pronounced this judgement was "Mommy loves ds2 more." This is a realization I gleaned after the fact. At the time, I simply thought he was being irrational. I sat in stunned disbelief as I listened to his tirade. "It's not fair. I'm never helping you with the dishes again." Etc.

At this point, I had no idea how to handle this explosion. Somehow I missed the session on handling nuclear meltdowns all those years ago in my new mommy class. I did what any other self-respecting self-preservationist would have done - I fled the premises. I went right out the front door and shut it behind me.

In the two minutes it took me to gather my wits, I realized he's right - it's not fair. I went back inside and calmly explained that it was not fair of them to place me in the middle and force me to make a decision that was not mine to make. I informed the boys of their options: one boy at a time on the microscope or both together, and I calmly left the room. I proceeded to unload the dishwasher. Before I put three dishes away, d1 (who was never going to help me with the dishes again) quietly started putting dishes away. After we finished the dishes he informed me that he and his brother had decided to work together with the microscope.

As a parent, I am sometimes invited to take part in the "Who Does Mommy Love More" game. I have learned that this is a game I cannot win. I don't like games I can't win. I think next time I am invited I will politely decline.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Optional Chores?

For most of a decade now, my husband and I have had a policy of letting the housework go to the one who is the most bothered by it. Unless you have tried this, you have no idea how liberating this is. There is a huge difference between "I have to clean the kitchen" and "This messy kitchen bothers me so I am choosing to clean it." The key distinction is choice. I am free to clean or not clean as I see fit. However, there is a caveat. As we both have this choice, we must both respect the other person's choice. This means there is no complaining when something is not done, and there is no grumbling from the person who chooses to do the work. Once both parties accept that there truly is a choice in this matter and learn not to resent the other person's choice, there is room for true helpfulness and consideration.

How does all this relate to our educational journey? A few weeks ago, I started thinking about this level of respect in terms of my children and their education. They already have the freedom to choose their educational path. I started thinking about what would happen if I gave them the same freedom to make choices about housework. I became more consistent about asking them to do things instead of telling them. I made sure they understood that I really didn't care if their room was clean. I also assured them if they decided to clean something I would be more than happy to help. Then I proceeded to take care of the work that was bothering me.

At this point you may be thinking, "Whoa, hold on here! How are those kids ever going to learn responsibility if you don't force them to do chores?" To this I respond, how will they learn self-discipline if I am always telling them what to do? So bear with me while I tell you how my little experiment turned out.

When I asked the question "Will you do...?" I received one of three responses: no, sure, or later (worded in various ways) which I accepted with no strings attached. I discovered that when allowed to choose, my kids responded positively more often than negatively, and when they did a task, they did it joyfully. Those who have had to deal with a kid grumbling and slamming the cabinets as he puts the dishes away can appreciate the impact of this.

As for the messy bedroom. . . Therein lies the greatest victory. It turns out my older ds has discovered the benefits of a clean room. He wanted a friend to come over to play, but he realized there was nowhere to play. He had trouble finding a few things. He stepped on a few toys. He had a few overdue fines at the library. He came to me one evening and said, "Mom, will you help me clean my room?" Inside I was doing a very enthusiastic victory dance. On the outside, I calmly replied "Of course I will." Thus, he cleaned his room with out being told because it was his choice, and he did it joyfully.

Monday, November 19, 2007

About our learning journey

Those who know us, know we homeschool. However, you may have some inaccurate preconceived notions about what that means. You may think we do the same things "schooled" kids do, only at home. You may be surprised to learn that for the most part neither of those notions ("school" and "home) is true. We typically spend more days away from home than at home. We also spend very little time doing things that look like "school". Instead our family has adopted an authentic child centered model of learning. This was not an overnight decision. We did not wake up one morning and decide "Oh, gee, let's let the kids be in charge of their own education." See, now some of you are cringing. I hear a collective cry of "Abdication! Anarchy!" But let's back up a little bit here. I do have a Master's degree in education after all. I have learned a thing or two about child development, theories of learning, and the like. I have taught in both traditional and alternative (i.e. Montessori) educational settings. I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of children and observe for myself what works and what doesn't. I have learned that children learn best when they actually want to learn. I have learned that all children are born naturally curious and eager to explore and make sense of their world. At some point during the school years that natural desire to learn is crushed out of them, and they suddenly have to be coerced into learning. Suddenly graduation is the magical destination. They can't wait to graduate so they don't have to do any school work any more. We decided this is not what we want for our children. We desperately want to protect their joy of learning. We also want them to understand that learning is not a destination, it is a journey. We are trying to cultivate a lifestyle of learning in our children because we, their parents, are lifelong learners who are most joyous when we are learning.

Maria Montessori was first and foremost a scientist who used the scientific method of experimentation and observation to develop several theories of education that are near and dear to my heart. Children need meaningful work. The work of the adult is to complete a task; the work of the child is to complete himself. All children have sensitive periods during which learning is achieved with the greatest ease. All children have an inner guide which directs them to that which will satisfy their needs. The adult is merely a guide in the prepared environment, rather than a teacher. Her job is to make sure the child has all of the materials and resources he needs, and to show him how to use those materials and resources, as well as provide assistance when requested. I could go on and on, but I trust you are getting the idea. I merely wanted to give you a bit of the scientific basis for the educational philosophy our family embraces.

Why this lengthy explanation and justification of philosophy? On the chance you decide to come back and visit again, I didn't want you to be shocked to hear my seven year old played video games all day, or my ten year old had a comic book reading marathon. I very much want you to understand that authentic learning can happen outside the traditional paradigm you possibly grew up with. Children do not need tests, grades, and the like to learn. In fact, those traditional tools are actually quite damaging to the learning process, as they program kids to fear failure and resist taking chances (two concepts that are essential to the learning process).

You may ask, "Don't your kids goof off all day if you just let them do what they want?" I'll let you be the judge of that. In future posts I will let you know what they have been up to, and you can feel free to post your opinion as to whether my children are being educated. Of course, as the owner of this blog, I can feel free to delete your comments ;)

I leave you with this little glimpse of what each of my children chooses to do when left to his own devices. Last week, while I was unpacking (we just moved), my 10 yo ds (dear son for those new to the lingo) walked in and announced he was off to the library. He had just finished reading the huge stacks of non-fiction (WWI, WWII, Revolutionary War - you get the theme) books he had checked out a couple of days earlier, and he was ready for more. A couple of hours ago I left my 7 yo ds upstairs working with a snap together electronics kit. As for my 2 yo dd, she is continually coming to me with her Sandpaper Letters or her "bead work" and asking me to work with her on her letter sounds or her numbers.