Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Best Week of School, When the Kids Learned Nothing

A couple of weeks ago Papa took the boys backpacking in Yosemite for the week. We pointed out to them that this was their school assignment for the week. They left on Monday and came home on Friday.
The trip plan from Tenaya Lake to Happy Isles (red), with side trip to Half Dome (blue)

After spending the night in Yosemite Valley on Monday night, they were up early on Tuesday catch the shuttle bus that would take them to the trail head. From Tuesday through Friday they hiked almost 22 miles with a total elevation gain of about 13,000 feet. They summited both Cloud's Rest and Half Dome along the way.
The first day on the trail

They came home full of excitement. They'd had a great time!

Back at the car, before getting a shower
I was pretty disappointed to hear, that in the rush to get to the shuttle bus on time, the camera had been left behind in the car. I was really feeling jealous of their adventures (while I stayed home with Little Miss, age 2) and was eager to relive their trek with them through the pictures they had taken. As luck would have it, they met a nice couple on the same route who took some photos of them along the way and e-mailed them to us!

A view from Cloud's Rest towards Half Dome and Yosemite Valley

A couple of days after the trip Curly announced, "That was the best week of school, EVER!"

"Great!", I responded. "What did you learn?"


I just laughed. I wasn't about to argue with him, and ruin his perfect week of school. I know how much time Papa has spent with them, teaching them to read topographic maps, using a map and compass, learning how to read a trail map, how to start a fire (about 10 different ways), how to pack for a trip, how to write out and leave an outing plan, how to calculate the right weight of your backpack based on your own body weight, and just about everything else there is to know about backpacking, hiking, rock climbing, and camping.

About to get on the cables on Half Dome
The boys told me all about a movie they saw their first night, camping in Yosemite Valley and things they had learned (oops!) about the history of the park. They know, and I'm sure learned more, about the local rocks, fora and fauna than most people. They told me that they saw one marmot. They did not see any pika, but apparently there were some pretty cool pika finger puppets in a the camp store.

Heading up the cables (not learning anything)

At the top of Half Dome with Clouds Rest behind them
I'm feeling pretty good about the nothing they learned that week with their dad!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

World Geography

My kids often come up with much better lessons than I plan for them. This "World Geography Lesson" is one of many examples. 
The best geography lesson I never came up with.

Now, if was at the point where I was ready to 100% embrace unschooling, this is what school would be like all of the time. I've talked about toying with unschooling in some of my previous posts, ( Homeschool Changes and (F)unschooling), but is not something we do 100% of the time. From what I've learned, you are not really unschooling unless you do it 100%. I'll be honest here, this annoys me a little bit. I, like so many homeschoolers, have a very eclectic approach. I like to take the parts of things that I like.

According to Carol Edson,
“Unschooling to me means learning what one wants, when one wants, in the way one wants, where one wants, for one’s own reasons. The learning is learner-directed; advisors or facilitators are sought out as desired by the learner. There are no curricula, lesson plans, schedules, or agendas. Most of the learning is quiet, even invisible, as there is not a focus on creating a lot of ‘products.’”

Mary Griffith defines it more precisely as needing these three factors:
From On Unschooling
1. An Environment Conducive to Exploration and Experimentation.
2. Adults as Models and Facilitators
3. Trust That the Child Will Learn.

I do really well with "rules" 1 and 2. I kind of agree with number three, but I'm unable to completely "let-go" and not guide my child's learning in some way. I DO give "assignments". We use the Workboxes System which is, by its nature, parent directed. The assignments I give, and put into the workboxes, are based on my kids and how well I know them. Scootch told me, at the end of the summer, that he wanted to study geometry and physics. So, when I give him math and science assignments, they are in these areas. I ask him to pick out experiments he wants to try from the book on physics experiments. I put books and magazines in their boxes that I think they would want to read. I assign them lego projects from Lego Quest.
We only spend a couple of hours a day (if even that, and rarely 5 days a week) on assignments I give them. The rest of the time they have available to get creative and come up with their own great learning activities (although they think they are just playing!).  The majority of their time is spent with lots of "1 and 2". I don't want to spend any more time than that on math lessons I think they need to learn. In the words of Mark Twain, I don't want their schooling to get in the way of their education.
Last week they came up with a great World Geography lesson. They asked if they could take down the large world map that is on the wall. They often use this map while doing another great learning activity they came up with: One child is on the computer on Google Earth, and the other child stands at the map. The child at the computer "flies" around the world, and the one at the map charts the course, and gives directions as needed. I'll hear things like, "NO! You need to go North of France!" and "Don't go that way, you'll end up in the Arctic Ocean!" When Scootch found that I had put a Google Earth App on the ipad he was so excited!
I allowed the removal of the wall map, although at first I was a bit skeptical, as I often am about their plans. They took it into their room and proceeded to play a game where they had Lego guys and vehicles that were going around the world claiming territories (kind of their own version of Risk, a board game they have never seen). They had very detailed rules about how you moved, how you could claim or take over countries. I'm pretty sure I heard, "That's not fair! I'm stuck over here in Australia!" The next day they took the game to the next level by inventing and creating their own world map using construction paper taped together, with made up land forms. I think that counts for both art and social studies!

The next day they took the game to the next level by inventing and creating their own world map using construction paper taped together, with made up land forms. I think that counts for both art and social studies!
A whole new world!
If nothing else, at least they know their geography! 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Different Ways to use Workboxes

When we started using Workboxes I began by setting them up like I had seen on different websites and blogs. Each child had his own set of workboxes on his part of the shelves. I posted last fall How Workboxes Work in Our House.

My first big innovation was to create "sister" boxes. This is where the older kids have a workbox that has a "sister" tag on it (kind of like a "mom" tag that means take this box and work with mom, only it is take this box and work with your little sister).

I have two boys ages 9 & 10. There are a lot of things for school that I like to to together: Read aloud, Social Studies, Science, a board game, to name a few. I found that if I didn't put something into a workbox, it often didn't get done! I'd tell myself "When they finish their other work we will play a game of Scrabble." When the time came around and they had finished all of their other boxes I'd tell myself, never mind, I'm too tired. Also, when it is in a box the kids seem to go along with it without complaint for some reason. When I have a book I want to read to both of them, whose box do I put it into?

Most of the workboxes have two velcro dots on them, room for two tags . I was very proud of myself to decide to put 3 velcro dots on a few of the boxes. This gives me a place to put a number tag for each boy, plus a "mom" tag. It would be easy to add a couple more dots (though you will start to run out of room!) for more kids. This is a box for the three of us to do together.:

Now the boys have some shelves with their individual workboxes:

On a separate shelf we have a few "group" workboxes. With their toddler sister running around, what usually works for us is to do these boxes when little sister takes her nap. Meanwhile, the boys can work on their individual boxes.

I use these tags (and created a sister tag to match):

Download your copy at

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Get Creative!

I try to get creative and put a variety of things into the kids Workboxes. I've been in a bit of a rut lately and I broke it by getting a bunch of "junk" out of the art cabinet. I have lots of odds and ends, many of which are in this jar:

I find I have collected lots of little things that might be good for a project at some point, so you can't throw them away! I filled a workbox for each of the boys with some glue, cardboard, and assorted odds and ends: tongue depressors, corks, toothpicks, popsicle sticks, clothes pins, wooden shapes, magnets, and more. The assignment: Get creative.

It is really Scootch who thrives on this kind of assignment. He is an outside-of-the-box-creative kind of guy. Living with Aspergers, ADHD and anxiety, he has a hard time sometimes, and an open ended, hands on activity like this is very calming for him. He ended up creating two airplanes and a tank:

Scootch spent a lot of time on his projects. He was focused, and patient, even though the creations kept falling apart. By the time he was finished, in addition to his three creations, there was about 1/2 a bottle of glue on the kitchen table. Fortunately, glue is cheap and pretty easy to clean up.

The next day he asked for a similar assignment. The way he responded reminds me that I need to provide this kind of activity for him more often. Even if it is just to put playdough or clay into one of his boxes, every day. The more I think about it, I wounder what effect it might have on his behavior to make sure and include something like this on a daily basis. I know what that means for me: Get creative!