Thursday, October 14, 2010

Homeschool Changes!

Well, we did it. We have gone out on our own.

This is our second year of homeschooling. Last year we were able to enroll in the "Homeschool Academy" with our local school district. That gave us access to the district curriculum. We worked one on one with a teacher there, meeting with her about every 2 weeks. She really gave us complete flexibility in what we did. There was no pressure to have certain lessons or curriculum completed. She could see that we were doing appropriate work and that the boys were working above grade level, so she pretty much left us alone.

This year that program was cut. For some reason I have felt very insecure about homeschooling independently. To do that in California you file a Private School Affidavit. When you do that you really answer to no one. My fear of going independent lead me to join a charter school and I enrolled the boys in the California Virtual Academy (CAVA) which uses the K12 curriculum. At first I was happy to have the use of all of the curriculum, supplies, books and a new desktop computer. I thought I could do the bare minimum of jumping through their hoops to be able to use the materials. Well, I really tired, but it did not work out. I felt too much pressure to complete THEIR curriculum. This was fine for some areas, like math. When it came to science, I'd find my kids interested in a different subject, and we would not have time to focus on that because we had to do the K12 science. They were interested in writing, but not on the writing assignments they were supposed to be doing. I finally realized that it was keeping us from doing things that we wanted to be doing. We were doing things just to get them done. It was not homeschooling, it was school at home. I wrestled with the idea of taking them out of CAVA for several weeks. Lets face it, I'd have to box up and send back all of that stuff and that is a big pain.

Don't get me wrong, I think K12 is a good curriculum and CAVA is an excellent program. This is especially good if you have no teaching experience and are concerned that your child is meeting all of the state standards. I was just finding more and more that I wanted to take more of an unschooling approach and that was just not possible with that program.

Maybe I CAN be an unschooler, I thought. Maybe I can trust my children and follow their lead. I bought a book on unschooling. I bought The Unschooling Unmanual for some reassurance and inspiration.

So, on Thursday October 7, 2010, we suddenly stopped what we were doing in the middle of the school day and I called the CAVA teacher to let her know that we would be un-enrolling from CAVA. I felt FREE!

I went ahead and bought a subscription to an on-line curriculum, time4learning. The boys like being on the computer and I thought this would be a good resource that we can use as we like. (even though Scootch REALLY hates the little mouse logo)
Yeah, Ed Mouse is kind of lame.

On Friday I sat down with each of the boys and had them choose what they would work on in math and reading for the next few weeks. They decided together on a science topic, and I decided that for social studies we would continue our study of US History. Writing? They had both just started working on books on "How to torture my brother". I told them that they could continue to write about and illustrate ways to torture each other in their little books. I figure it is much better than them actually doing it. Normally trying to get Scootch to write is like pulling teeth, so if he has something that he is motivated to write about, we go for it!

On Tuesday I made the leap. I filed as a private school in the state of California. Now we are doing what WE want to do. I had to give our school a name so I named it Tadpoles, Trails and Trees Academy.

They are doing an awesome job so far of working through some on-line lessons at their own pace. (In fact they are doing more than I expected!)

I still set up workboxes for them every day, but I put in things that I want them to do. I don't feel the pressure to get certain things done and I'm able to put things in the workboxes like lego building tasks, like some of the ideas at LEGO Quest Kids, or ideas from Think! I am feeling so much more relaxed abut letting them get creative and explore and do their own thing.

Scootch was inspired by a 3-D model of Jamestown we made (we're currently learning about colonial America) to build a fort of his own. He went onto Owl & Mouse: Make a Town and downloaded some patterns which he adjusted and cut out to build this fort:

Curly spent a lot of time engineering this sled for Baby. He made sure to make the bottom so that it wouldn't scratch the wood floors. When it turned out that it tipped over too easily, he re-engineered it for safety:

Heck, who needs a curriculum? I think we can just use old cardboard boxes!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Peanut Butter Playdough

Playdough is both fun and educational. If you make peanut butter playdough it can double as a snack!

Developmental Benefits of Working with Playdough

"When given modeling compound toddlers are instinctively motivated to explore its soft and responsive sensory qualities. They poke it, squeeze it, pat it, pick it up and push it down. The compound responds to each of their actions and the child is learning that his/her actions have consequences. Manipulation develops the child’s large and small muscles and fosters eye-hand coordination. The child’s brain is taking shape along with the compound as the visual and tactile experiences generate new neurons and synapses in the brain."

Peanut butter playdough is quick and easy to make (and even gluten free!) and the kids LOVE it! You only need three ingredients:

1 cup powdered milk
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup honey

If you do a search on-line you will find a variety of recipes, some which include powdered sugar, some which make large amounts. This recipe is simple and makes just enough for a few kids.

How is this educational? Math! Measure out one cup of powdered milk.

Measure out one half cup of peanut butter. You can do such a range of math problems when cooking. Measurement, simple fractions, addition and subtraction of fractions etc.
For the really little ones this is a great way to explore with the fingers and it is okay if they eat it! Fine motor development, exploring with sight, feel, smell and taste. This is a great way to develop and expand vocabulary in young children.
Little and big alike have fun exploring and tasting this yummy treat!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Salmon Run Field Trip!

We just finished a science unit on watersheds. Our stop at Taylor Creek in South Lake Tahoe was a perfect stop to see a watershed first hand, and see all of the Kokanee Salmon. Our timing was perfect as the creek was full of salmon heading upstream to spawn. Much to the boys' delight there were several who had completed their journey and died. I'm pretty sure the dead salmon were even more impressive than the live ones.

It was a beautiful walk through the different parts of the watershed, including lots of aspen groves.

The river was thick with salmon!
We learned all about the life cycle of the salmon, but really it was just fun to look at all of the fish. It was exciting to see them swim through the shallow water and jump up little waterfalls.

Baby was very excited to see all of the fish.

The stream profile chamber lets you get a look under water.

If you are in South Lake Tahoe in the early Fall this is definitely a must see!